Douglas Farah & Kathi Austin in The New Republic:

PlaneThe guns-for-minerals pipeline bore the hallmarks of Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer who operates one of the largest private air fleets in the world. Bout has made millions flying lethal cargo to many of the world’s worst elements, from former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to Rwandan genocidaires. Bout’s activities are so egregious that Peter Hain, a British cabinet minister, publicly branded him “Africa’s chief merchant of death.”

After years of prompting by the United Nations, President Bush issued an executive order in July 2004 making it illegal for any American person or institution to do business “directly or indirectly” with Charles Taylor’s associates, including Bout. Nine months later, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (ofac) ordered the freezing of the U.S. assets of 30 Bout-related companies, along with those of his U.S.-based partner, his brother, and two other associates. The United Nations had already taken similar action against Bout, who has been wanted by Interpol since 2002 on an outstanding warrant for laundering the proceeds of illicit weapons sales…

Yet, remarkably, given this record and the international efforts to shut him down, Bout also counts among his clients the U.S. military and its contractors in Iraq, nato forces in Afghanistan, and the United Nations in Sudan. The New Republic has learned that the Defense Department has largely turned a blind eye to Bout’s activities and has continued to supply him with contracts, in violation of the executive order and despite the fact that other, more legitimate air carriers are available. Revenues from these flights enable Bout to carry on the profitable business of nurturing conflicts in other, less covered parts of the world, threatening further international instability.

More here.