Arrest May Show Taylor's Al Qaeda Link

The Perspective

February 18, 2002

Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan national of Indian descent, known as one of Africa's most notorious arms dealers, has been arrested in Belgium, according to the Belgian daily Le Soir. On June 4, 2001, Mr. Ruprah was listed as one of 130 persons (a list which has since been revised by the UN with some original names and key players being dropped) banned by the UN Security Council for their role in fueling the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. The travel ban imposed on Liberia, covers senior members of the Taylor's regime, his immediate family, and members of his "inner circle," which included several foreign nationals, mostly of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Mr. Ruprah’s partner, Victor Bout, is also affected by the travel ban.

The Guardian reported on Saturday, “Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan national of Indian extraction, was charged in Brussels with criminal association and travelling on a false British passport; other more serious charges are expected to follow”.

The UN Panel of Experts whose findings led the imposition of limited sanctions on Liberia wrote in their December 20, 2000, report submitted to the Security Council:

“A Kenyan national named Sanjivan Ruprah plays a key role in Liberia's airline registry and in the arms trade. Before his involvement in Liberia, Sanjivan Ruprah had mining interests in Kenya, and was associated with Branch Energy (Kenya). Branch Energy owned diamond mining rights in Sierra Leone, and introduced the private military company, Executive Outcomes to the government there in 1995. Ruprah is also known as an arms broker. He has worked in South Africa with Roelf van Heerden, a former colleague from Executive Outcomes, and together they have done business in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. Ruprah was once in charge of an airline in Kenya, Simba Airlines, until investigations into financial irregularities forced the company's closure.

“In November 1999, Ruprah was authorized in writing by the Liberian Minister of Transport to act as the 'Global Civil Aviation agent worldwide' for the Liberian Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority, and to 'investigate and regularise the ... Liberian Civil Aviation register'. The ostensible aim of Ruprah's investigation was to 'suspend and/or cancel the registration of those aircraft which have had illegal certificates issued outside the knowledge of the government'. During its visit to Liberia the Panel asked the Transport Ministry, the Ministry of Justice and police authorities about Ruprah and his work, but was told that Ruprah was not known to them.

”Sanjivan Ruprah travels using a Liberian diplomatic passport in the name of Samir M. Nasr. The passport identifies him as Liberia's Deputy Commissioner for Maritime Affairs.

“An airline named Santa Cruz Imperial/Flying Dolphin, based in the United Arab Emirates, has used the Liberian registry for its aircraft, apparently unknown to Liberian authorities until 1998. It also used the Swaziland registry until the Government of Swaziland de-registered them in 1999. A total of 43 aircraft were de-registered, operated by the following companies: Air Cess, Air Pass, Southern Cross Airlines, Flying Dolphin and Southern Gateway Corporation. According to the Government of Swaziland, 'while the names may be different, some of these companies are one and the same and did not operate from Swaziland'. When it discovered that some of the aircraft were still operating, the Government of Swaziland sent information to the Civil Aviation Authorities in the United Arab Emirates where some of the aircraft were based, in part because of airworthiness concerns, and in part because it believed that the operators may have been involved in arms trafficking. Flying Dolphin is owned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan, a business associate of Victor Bout.

“Victor Bout is a well-known supplier of embargoed non-State actors - in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. Viktor Vasilevich Butt, know more commonly as Victor Bout, is often referred to in law enforcement circles as 'Victor B' because he uses at least five aliases and different versions of his last name. He was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, had air force training in Russia, and reportedly worked as a KGB officer shortly before the end of the Cold War. He then went into private business, setting up airline companies throughout Eastern Europe. Today Victor Bout oversees a complex network of over 50 planes, tens of airline companies, cargo charter companies and freight-forwarding companies, many of which are involved in shipping illicit cargo. Bout himself lives in the United Arab Emirates.

“Bout has used the Liberian aviation register extensively in connection with his company, Air Cess Liberia. The United Nations Panel investigating the violations of United Nations embargoes on UNITA in Angola identified 37 arms flights, all with false end-user certificates and false flight schedules, conducted with Liberian-registered planes operated by Victor Bout, between July 1997 and October 1998. Victor Bout is a resident of the United Arab Emirates and many of his airline companies are based there, providing charter services to companies in more than ten countries. His planes, however, are registered elsewhere - in Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and elsewhere.

“Centrafricain Airlines is one of the many companies controlled by Bout and his Air Cess/Transavia Travel Cargo group. Early in 2000, an investigation into fraud concerning the registration of an aircraft operated by Centrafricain Airlines was initiated in the Central African Republic, because some aircraft flying these colours were operating without a licence.

“An Ilyushin 76, registered in Liberia in the name of Air Cess Liberia in 1996, was later registered in Swaziland. It was subsequently removed from the Swaziland register by the Civil Aviation Authority because of irregularities. The plane then moved to the register of the Central African Republic, where it obtained the designation TL-ACU in the name of Centrafricain Airlines. The aircraft sometimes carries the registration of the government of the Congo (Brazzaville). As with other Bout aircraft, the plane is based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

“This plane was used in July and August 2000 for arms deliveries from Europe to Liberia. This aircraft and an Antonov made four deliveries to Liberia, three times in July and once in August 2000. The cargo included attack-capable helicopters, spare rotors, anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, missiles, armoured vehicles, machine guns and almost a million rounds of ammunition. The helicopters were Mi-2 and Mi-17 types. A few months earlier, two Alouette-3 helicopters had been flown in by a Libyan government plane, but these helicopters were replaced by the newly arrived ones and are thought to be in Liberia no longer. (A note on European sources of weaponry is included in paragraph 247, below.) These deliveries, all made after the collapse of the Lomé Peace Agreement, are especially worrisome.

“The transactions were set up by Victor Bout in the United Arab Emirates, and by Gus van Kouwenhoven, mentioned in paragraph 217, above. The plane used for the helicopter shipment was the Ilyushin 76, TL-ACU. Bout worked with a freight forwarder in Abidjan. A non-existent company 'Abidjan Freight' was set up as a front by Sanjivan Ruprah, to conceal the exact routing and final destination of the plane. The official routing was 'Entebbe-Robertsfield-Abidjan' but the cargo was unloaded in Robertsfield. The weapons were sourced from Central Europe and Central Asia.”

According to the LA Times, “Belgian and US officials said yesterday that Sanjivan Ruprah, who owns a Kenyan diamond mine, has offered details to US investigators about business dealings between Al Qaeda and the sprawling arms-trading operation run by Victor Bout, a Russian broker accused of transporting massive quantities of weapons to Africa and Afghanistan.

“Officials familiar with Ruprah's case and his cooperation with US investigators said his knowledge of Bout's organization could provide vital evidence in learning how terrorist groups are armed and how international weapons networks operate.”

“Three UN panels looking into the arming of rebel factions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Angola have accused Bout of transporting millions of dollars' worth of assault rifles, missile launchers, and even helicopter gunships.”

LA Times also quoted John Peleman, one of the members of the UN Panel of Expert, as saying that: “Bout and other arms traders had often registered their airplanes in Liberia to escape international scrutiny and regulation.”

The documents found in the possession of Taylor’s friend, Leonid Minin, arrested in Italy in August of 2000 show more evidence on how arms purchases arranged by him (Minin) helped Taylor in his efforts to terrorize the West African sub-region. Additionally, Washington Post, in its November 2 (2001) article showed the link between Mr. Taylor and the Al Qaeda terrorist network through Abrahim Bah. But this new arrest and investigation of yet another Taylor’s associate may help in linking Mr. Taylor and Victor Bout to the terrorist network in Afghanistan.

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