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Ostend Airport arms connection


At the end of May 2000 an attempt was made to fly four helicopters by Ilyushin freighter from Ostend to the Congo (ex-Zaïre but hereafter referred to as the Congo). President Laurent Kabila had ordered them for military purposes. Customs prevented the cargo from leaving Ostend for Kabila’s Congo. But permission was granted to transfer the helicopters to England and nobody was afterwards concerned about the helicopters’ final destination nor how they reached it. The embarrassing cargo disappeared and nobody seemingly felt guilty.

It becomes imperative to obtain a clear image of Ostend Airport as a pivot of the international arms trade.

Based on data of inside informers and that of the International Peace and Information Service (hereafter IPIS), this report will try to show, how often intricate networks involved in arms running to conflict-torn countries operate and, more specifically, the involvement of Ostend Airport. The war zones concerned are mostly Angola, Sierra Leone and the Region of the Great Lakes in Central Africa, all of them regions where mass-murders have occurred and where many survivors have been left permanently mutilated, for the sake of the diamond trade, monetary gain and power mania.

IPIS is an independent study and information service, covering international relations in general and in particular carrying out studies on arms trade, mercenary organisations and related subjects. It operates as an intermediary between, on the one hand, journalists and the research community and, on the other, peace, human rights and Third World movements. [1]

Our own data has been gathered from local informers and freelance investigators, who for their own safety, are not mentioned by name.

Certain companies are known to have organised arms traffic from their Ostend Airport branch offices. Such companies are extremely mobile and disappear as swiftly as they have been installed, possibly reappearing  under another name to carry on with their evil activities.

Of the four following companies, which have been involved in arms running, one is still present in Ostend, while others were previously known under another name:

  Aero Zambia
  Avicon Aviation
  Westland Aviation and
  Air Charter Service.

The involvement in arms’ running of a fifth company, Johnsons Air, is described at the near end of this document.

1. According to IPIS, a company named Seagreen operated, until 1996, out of Belgium and was observed to be involved in arms trafficking. In November 1996, a Belgian daily, Het Belang van Limburg, revealed that two airlines based at Ostend Airport, Sky Air (see further on) and Seagreen, had been actively trafficking arms to Rwanda and to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This had been going on throughout 1994 and 1995 during an UN-arms embargo on Rwanda. Empty planes of both companies took off in Ostend, to Burgas in Bulgaria, where boxes with AK47 riffles and ammunition of the company Kintex were loaded and flown to Central Africa. The owner of Seagreen1, David Paul Tokoph and his brother Gary, both American citizens, were at that time living in Gistel, a little town near Ostend. Seagreen is no longer in existence, but David Tokoph afterwards acquired the bankrupt Zambian national airline2. Subsequently this became a privately owned company, known as Aero Zambia, which also became involved in arms smuggling to the Unita rebel movement of Angola3.

The Times of Zambia reported that an aircraft operated by Seagreen, registered and licensed in Belgium, shuttled between Belgian airports and South Africa with arms cargo, that was off-loaded in Johannesburg onto a Boeing 707, registered as 5Y-BNJ (*1), for the final flight into Unita territory4. Although it was bearing Aero Zambia colours, the latter aircraft was operated by one of Tokoph’s sister company, Greco Air5, which had operating bases in Johannesburg and in El Paso, Texas, USA. El Paso is also the home of another Tokoph sister company, Aviation Consultants International6, whose only services at that time included leasing aircraft to Aero Zambia. The Angolan government accused Zambian senior government officials of contributing actively to Aero Zambia’s arms smuggling towards Unita7. Following the Angolan complains, Aero Zambia was then grounded by the Zambian Department of Civil Aviation for so-called flouting aviation laws8.

A letter from the Angolan government to United Nations sanctions committee chairman Robert Fowler also reveals that David Tokoph constructed an airstrip at Mwansabombwe9, an insignificant village on Zambia’s borders with Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo respectively. A Hercules C-130, registered as 9J-AFV, used to take off from this Tokoph-airstrip to unknown destinations3. The end-user/operator of the plane was Chani Fisheries10, a Zambian company of the vice-chairman of Aero Zambia, Moses Katumbi11, authorized to operate the plane temporarily in Zambia only.

Aero Zambia’s owner, Tokoph, is reportedly a former associate of right-wing American politician Oliver North, who played a key role in the Iran-Contra scandal and was Washington’s point man in the days when the United States covertly sponsored Unita12. In the early 1980s, Oliver North was, according to the Belgian newspaper De Morgen of 2 October 1995, also a regular visitor to Ostend Airport. During the Iran-Iraq war, David Tokoph has been connected to the Iran-Contra affair through his Texas company, Aviation Consultants International, and its Mexico-registered subsidiary, Greco Air, who both leased aircraft to a company, called Santa Lucia Airways13.

In May 1987, a Belgian parliamentary commission of enquiry confirmed, that Santa Lucia Airways was indeed operating in Belgium as a subcontractor to the Belgian national airline Sabena and was connected to illegal weapons flights to Iran and to Unita in Angola as well, via the military base of Kamina in the Congo14. For instance, a cargo plane marked Santa Lucia Airways is known to have flown arms to the then Belgian base near Kamina, from where the weapons were shuttled in a C-130 cargo plane to rebel areas in Angola15. Santa Lucia had until May 1987 an office at Ostend Airport, where its aircraft was also periodically stored for maintenance purposes. Other details are known of a Santa Lucia Boeing 707, registered as J6-SLF (*2), linked to an illicit shipment of weapons to Israel for transhipment to Iran on November 25, 1985. This light blue cargo plane also participated in 1986 in delivering arms at the Kamina air base for the Angola rebels between March 20 and April 20, between May 15 and 30, and during one night in mid-October16. The same aircraft, re-registered as EL-JNS, has later been operated by Sky Air and flew in 1996 a number of boxes of Kalashnikovs from Bulgaria to Rwanda (see further on)17. The managing director of the now extinct Santa Lucia Airways, Dietrich Reinhardt, was know to have excellent connections with the C.I.A. and also to be at that time an associate of David Tokoph18.

Another question remains as to what a mystery Aero Zambia aircraft was doing in Asmara, Eritrea, where it lies stripped of its engines and wings. At the beginning of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in 1998, the Boeing 727, registered as 5Y-BMW, was hit by an Ethiopian air missile, as it stood parked at Asmara airport. Based on the allegations of Aero Zambia’s involvement in arms trafficking towards Unita, the presence of the aircraft in Asmara, being targeted by the Ethiopian missiles, has become more ominous, but its mission has never been revealed19.

In May 1996, the Board of Directors of Aero Zambia decided to open a branch office at the Ostend Airport. The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Directors were signed by David Tokoph, executive chairman and Alessandro Sangue, managing director. Officially the activities of the Ostend branch had to remain confined to the representation of the Zambian company in Belgium and Europe. It was the Ostend branch that, at the end of May 2000, had been ordered by the Brussels firm Demavia to arrange the above-mentioned  transfer by plane of the four helicopters destined for Laurent Kabila. In August 2003 the branch moved its office from the airport to the Ostend Jet Center, where the Russian arms dealer Victor Bout started in 1995 his murky business (see further on). At the present time, the branch is still representing a Zambian airline which is no more in existence since March 200020, but is nevertheless presumably arranging for Demavia regular flights to Kinshasa.

David Tokoph, the proud owner and simultaneously operator of a F-100 Super Sabre fighter, based in El Paso, and at some time a fervent supporter of both George Bush Snr and Jr, is still very active in the air business, since in August 1997 he took over the Johannesburg-based company, Interair South Africa, with his brother Gary installed as vice president of the company13.

It is an astonishing fact that no UN-mention nor international investigation can be found with regard to the numerous allegations on illicit arms dealings, in which David Tokoph had an active participation. He obviously still remains untouchable and the reason may be sought in since many years tough support by high – probably US – political protection21.

              1 Flight International, March 25, 1998
2 Flight International, April 1, 1998
3 The Post of Zambia, January 28, 1999, Aero Zambia linked to Unita arms
4 Times of Zambia, February 4, 1999, Arms link exposed
5 Aerotransport.org, Greco Air
6 Times of Zambia, February 19, 1999, Aero-Zambia probe coming
7 Business Day, Johannesburg, February 22, 1999, Chiluba’s son, supplying Unita’s arms
8 Associated Press, International news, March 6, 1999, Zambia grounds airline
9 The Post of Zambia, March 17, 1999, Growing tensions between Zambia & Angola
10 Aerotransport.org, C-130 msn 3095
11 Times of Zambia, February 2, 1999, Airline has long checkered record
12 Mail & Guardian, January 14, 2000, Was Zambian jurist’s death a cover-up?
13 Mail & Guardian, November 8, 2002, Holomisa’s shady partner
14 Belgian parlementary commission, May 12, 1987, released February 28, 1989
15 New York Times, July 27, 1987, U.S. arms airlift to Angola rebels is said to go on
16 New York Times, February 1, 1987, C.I.A. said to send weapons via Zaire to Angola rebels
17 The Arms Fixers, Chapter 7, The Mercenary Routes, 1999, Mercenary Air Power
18 Private Eye, UK investgative magazine, October 28, 1988, Aviation news
19 BBC Monitoring Africa, June 7, 1998, Zambian cargo plane hit during Ethiopian air raid on Asmara airport
20 The Post of Zambia, March 9, 2000, Aero Zambia finally pulls out of Zambia
21 Arms Trafficking, Herman J Berge, March 19, 2009


2. A British airline, named Sky Air Cargo, used Ostend Airport in 1996 as the home base for its then 33 year-old Boeing 707, Liberian-registered as EL-JNS (*3). In October 1996, the plane flew a number of boxes containing Kalashnikovs from Bulgaria to Rwanda. [4] In 1997 it made at least 25 flights from Ostend. The plane was also seen several times from 1996 to 1998 on the military apron of Otopeni airport, near Bucharest, Romania. Under suspicion of illicit actions, the aircraft then adopted the airport of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) as its new home. In 1998 Sky Air was, together with Air Atlantic Cargo, responsible for airlifting some 2,000 Kalashnikovs, 180 rocket-launchers, 50 machine-guns and ammunition from Bulgaria to the UN-embargoed Sierra Leone, by order of the London-based private military corporation (PMC), Sandline International. [5] The Pakistani owner of Sky Air, Sayed Naqvi, admitted that his company delivered the weapons, and on May 10, The Observer reported that it had obtained documents that confirm details about a Sky Air arms flight. The Sky Air Boeing 707 was loaded with weapons at Burgas airport on February 21, 1998. The aircraft then departed for Kano, Nigeria, where it made a stopover before delivering its cargo to Sierra Leone.

In January 1999, the London Sunday Times also reported that Sky Air Cargo of London and the Ostend-based Occidental Airlines, owned by a Belgian arms dealer, Ronald Rossignol and a British pilot, Brian Martin (see further on), were using ageing Boeing planes that were loaded with AK47 rifles and 60mm portable mortars at Bratislava, the Slovak capital. Supposedly destined for Uganda, the arms, 40 tons at a time, went to Liberia and the Gambia, where they were put on flights for a bush airstrip at Kenema in Sierra Leone, occasionally through the services of Victor Bout (see further on). Eventually the arms were flown to rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). [6]

In a taped video interview, a British pilot described how in 1999 and 2000 he flew AK47 rifles from Rwanda and Uganda into the rebel-held town of Kisangani in the DRC. He claimed the planes were registered in Swaziland for Planet Air, which was named by the US government as supplying arms to eastern DRC. According to Amnesty International (AI), Planet Air has offices in West London run by the same person who managed Sky Air Cargo, the company that had operated the Liberian-registered cargo plane EL-JNS (now 3D-ALJ: *4) and, says AI, strangely enough, the Liberian Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority was run by a UK business in Kent, England, during 1999 and 2000. When too many questions were asked, the Kent businessman switched to selling registrations for Equatorial Guinea. UN investigations have shown that aircraft on these UK-run registers were used for international arms trafficking to Angola, Sierra Leone and Central Africa, including the DRC. [7]

The Pakistani owner of Sky Air, since 2001 in liquidation, seems to have strong connections with a new Ostend-based company, Avicon Aviation, founded in May 1998 by a Pakistani resident in Karachi. The man in charge of the Ostend company is another Pakistani living in Ostend and during the mid 1990s Ostend station manager for Sky Air. According to certain sources, ‘Avicon’ stands for Aviation Consultants, the Texas company of David Paul Tokoph. This would confirm close connections between Paul Tokoph and Sayed Naqvi, which already existed at the time when, as recounted earlier, their respective airlines Seagreen and Sky Air were actively trafficking arms to Rwanda throughout 1994 and 1995.

The above-mentioned Air Atlantic Cargo, owned by Nigerians, had Ostend and Lagos as operating bases. Its fleet was restricted to two Nigerian-registered Boeing 707s, 5N-EEO (*5) and 5N-TNO (*6), which in 1997 made a combined total of 126 flights from Ostend Airport. In January 1999, the English newspaper The Observer confirmed Air Atlantic Cargo’s involvement in illicit arms traffic and quoted that it was being linked to suspected arms shipments to Unita rebels in Angola and a possible breach of United Nations sanctions. The allegations relate to a Boeing 707 spotted on three separate occasions at Pointe Noire in western Congo, just north of enclave Cabinda, in September and October 1997. Its objective appeared to be to drop off military equipment and escape the war zone unnoticed. However, monitors from Human Rights Watch noted the Boeing’s markings and saw Unita troops unload ‘military-looking’ crates. HRW suspected that the crates contained arms destined for the civil war in neighbouring Angola. It was the first in a series of sightings of aircraft marked ‘Air Atlantic Cargo’.

Air Atlantic Cargo was a British company with offices in Kent. The planes spotted in Central Africa were those registered to the Lagos-based Air Atlantic Nigeria, the major shareholder in the British company. Air Atlantic Nigeria was run by a Nigerian businessman, Adebiyi Olafisoye, the senior executive of AAC in Britain, living in north London, and it closed down in 1999.

Ten months after the Pointe Noire sighting, a cargo plane was seen making drops to troops on both sides of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Interviews with former crew members revealed that on 4 August 1998 one of Air Atlantic’s Boeings landed at Goma in the east of the country with 38 tonnes of arms from Burgas in Bulgaria. A week later the other aircraft was spotted in Namibia, delivering 21 tonnes of arms to President Laurent Kabila’s troops. Crew members later confirmed to aid agency researchers that this was the plane that had supplied troops fighting the DRC government. The plane then flew to Botswana and unloaded armoured cars destined for Kabila’s troops in Kinshasa. They were almost certainly part of a consignment of 36 reconditioned vehicles manufactured by the British company Alvis of Coventry for the Belgian Army and sold to Botswana between 1995 and 1997. [8]

Ron Brennan, a director of Air Atlantic Cargo, told that he did not ‘have a clue’ what cargo the Boeing 707s have been carrying in Africa, but he fiercely rejected suggestions the company had been involved in arms trafficking. When pressed, Brennan conceded that one of the planes had been chartered by a Congolese airline. ‘What they use the planes for, is anybody’s guess,’ he said.

3. Liberia World Airlines has its main office in Gibraltar. In 1988 a Belgian company NV Liberia World Airlines Belgium was constituted, which went  bankrupt in 1994. The company was co-owned by a Liberian citizen and a native of Kinshasa, Duane Andrew Egli. The latter took residence in a hamlet on the Franco-Belgian border. A few weeks after the bankruptcy, the Brussels-based company Westland Aviation, also owned by Mr Egli, was transferred to the Ostend Airport. The company obtained a very substantial injection of new money, fifty per cent of which was contributed by a Swiss company, Avtec AG, Basel. Before he left the former Zaïre in 1988, Duane Egli owned an airline company, based in Kinshasa and called Lukim Air Services.

Westland Aviation was active in Ostend until January 2004. It had two DC8 aircraft based on that airport. One of them had its last authorised flight in Europe in January 2001 and it took the opportunity to fly to Uganda. The other Liberian-registered aircraft EL-AJO (*7) was operational until December 2001, when it took off for Sharjah (UAE) to be sold to Cargo Plus Aviation. In 1995 it was accused by Human Rights Watch of illegal arms transport. The Belgian authorities assured HRW that an investigation was already in progress as a result of their own information. In spite of the investigation, the same aircraft was, in August 1996, again convicted of illicit transport. The aircraft was impounded by local authorities in Goma, the Congo, after it was found to be carrying military clothing destined for Uganda and hidden under a load of relief supplies. [9]

Nevertheless until at least 2000 a great number of humanitarian flights were assigned to the same airplane EL-AJO. This means that Belgian authorities are not interested in the reports of HRW or of similar pressure groups and consequently have omitted taking preventive action. As a result, certain companies manage to make a profit from acts of war, by mixing relief supplies with military equipment.

A company closely connected with Westland Aviation, Airline Management Group, ran a hangar where, besides LWA-aircraft, other old airplanes received maintenance or were refurbished. Whether AMG owned a maintenance licence, is not clear. However, the company went bankrupt in July 2003. Six months later, in January 2004 Westland Aviation went bankrupt as well.

Meanwhile, Liberia World Airlines Gibraltar reappeared as Ducor World Airlines and acquired in May 2001, with the contribution of Avtec AG, a Lockheed TriStar from LTU Airways, Bulgarian-re-registered as LZ-TPC. The aircraft, stored at Ostend Airport, was converted to a freighter. At the end of 2001 DWA intended to acquire an additional four aircraft to replace its fleet of two DC8 aircraft, EL-AJO (now 3D/3C-FNK: *8) and EL-AJQ (now 3C-QRG: *9). It was first intended to register all of these aircraft in Bulgaria, as Liberian planes were then grounded due to United Nations restrictions. However, LZ-TPC was again re-registered in Equatorial Guinea as 3C-QQX. But due to licence difficulties, it had to remain parked at Ostend Airport for an unknown period of time. A further registration number, N822DE (*10), was then assigned in March 2002, and rumour has it that the aircraft was in a very advanced state of corrosion and would be dismantled for spares. [10]

In January 2002 Ducor World Airlines purchased the additional four TriStar aircraft from JMC Airlines/Caledonian Airways. One of them was re-registered as 3C-QRL, also in Equatorial Guinea, a tiny African republic, where most of Victor Bout’s fleet has been registered (see further on). The aircraft arrived early March at Maastricht, in the Netherlands, and was then ferried to Eindhoven initially to be operated as a flying exhibition for the Dutch Philips electronic products, but it became since 2003 again active with DWA from Sharjah. The third aircraft, re-registered as 3C-QRQ, was at first flying from Maastricht mainly to African destinations, has been involved in arms deliveries to Liberia (see below) and is since October 2003 Liberia-registered A8-AAA. The two other TriStar planes were, after Ducor went bankrupt in 2003, intended to become Liberia-registered too.

Belgian authorities were asked for more scrutiny to the Lockheed, stored at Ostend Airport. Indeed, the story of the aircraft N822DE (msn 1152) appears to be quite complicated [11]. Previously belonging to LTU Airways, it was since 1995 stored at Tucson, Arizona (USA), and its owner was Avtec AG. From May 2001 it was stored at Ostend Airport, belonged to Liberia World Airlines Gibraltar, and was first registered LZ-PTC, then re-registered LZ-TPC. In August 2001, LWA was renamed Ducor World Airlines and the aircraft got its Equatorial Guinea registration 3C-QQX. In March 2002, the Lockheed was eventually bought by Duane Andrew Egli, director of LWA/DWA and Westland Aviation and since 2001 an American citizen living in Miami, and the aircraft got its final American registration N822DE. [12] After a period of 18 months without executing a single flight, the Lockheed took off from Ostend Airport on 31 January 2003 bound for Canada, but the aircraft had to make an emergency landing at Manston Airport in southern England, after two of the three engines failed. In May 2003 the aircraft was ferried to an airport in Miami to be broken up. (*11)

Investigation by Bulgarian authorities showed that a company owned by a Bulgarian citizen, Yordan Zlatev, had applied for the Lockheed’s Bulgarian LZ-registrations. Zlatev is also a partner in Sitrat Air together with Volodya Nachev, who is a partner of Victor and Sergey Bout in the Bulgarian private air carrier, Air Zory. [13]

UN-investigation established that the Gibraltar company, KAS Engineering, through its branch in Sofia, KAS Engineering Teximp Bulgaria, acts as the sole broker of all the exports from Bulgaria-based arms suppliers. Victor Bout was the main transporter of these arms towards Africa’s war zones. He also provided the counterfeit end-user certificates to KAS Engineering. With regard to the settlement of the arms transactions, funds have been transferred to a Standard Chartered Bank account of the KAS Engineering branch in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), the home of Victor Bout, before he fled to Moscow. [14]

All this makes LWA/DWA suspected of being closely linked to international arms dealer Victor Bout, who started his evil business in 1995 in Ostend. [13]

The involvement of DWA in arms traffic was again evidenced, when end March 2003 Charles Taylor provided the UN with a list of weapons that Liberia had procured for its self-defence from the Serbian arms manufacturer Zastava. The broker for the arms deal was Belgrade-based company Temex. Between May and the end of August 2002 an Ilyushin of Moldova’s Aerocom and the Lockheed 3C-QRQ of Belgium’s Ducor World illegally transported the weapons to Liberia. [15a, 15b]

After Ducor’s bankruptcy in July 2003, confirmed by Ostend’s station manager, Paul La Roche, both planes 3C-QRQ and 3C-QRL, have been sold to a new Liberian company, International Air Services, and Liberia-registered respectively as A8-AAA (*12) and A8-AAB (*13). Also known as Air Express Liberia, the company was founded in 2003 and is the last but one creation of Duane A. Egli. Both planes, so far still airworthy, are operated by the new Liberian airline on behalf of an also new and Dakar-based company, Georgian Cargo Airlines. The two remaining TriStars of bankrupt Ducor, purchased from Caledonian Airways and  also intended to be registered in Liberia, have not been taken up because of their very poor condition. International Air Services itself seems to lease occasionally for single flights Ostend visiting aircraft from other airlines, such as Egyptian Air Memphis’ Boeing 707 SU-AVZ (*14), since 2 April 2004 derelict in Cairo, and DC8 planes of African International Airways of Swaziland, recently convicted of arms traffic towards the eastern Congo province of Ituri (see further on).

Between March and September 2004, Duane Egli was again involved in illegal arms traffic. An airplane of Rwandan-based Silverback Cargo freighters, 9XR-SC (*15), was leased out to and operated by his International Air Services to transport quantities of arms from Eastern Europe to Rwanda. [55]  Under international pressure, Duane Egli ceased his aircraft activities, but not for long. In 2007 he managed to create a new Chad-based company, AMW Tchad, also known as Aircraft Machinery Works. His both Lockheeds A8-AAA and A8-AAB, meanwhile relegated to the EU operating ban list, take again to the air, but now Chad-registered as TT-DAE (*16) and TT-DWE and thus as yet avoiding to be subject to an EU-ban. Duane Egli himself resumed his Belgian residence, near the city of Tournai.

4. In December 1997 Air Charter Service (ACS) set up a new company at Ostend Airport. ACS had already offices in Moscow with Sergey Vekhov [16] as managing director and in England where the nerve centre for Western Europe is installed under the leadership of a Briton, Christopher Denis Leach [17]. Chr. Leach started up the new company, Air Charter Service Belgium, together with a Dutch companion, Cornelis Schonk, who was until 1996 one of the members of the Board of Directors of Westland Aviation. The management of the new Ostend company was placed in the hands of Nicholas Leach. One of the aircraft operated by Air Charter Service Belgium from Ostend Airport, was an ageing Boeing 707, Liberian-registered as EL-ACP (*17), which, in accordance with European regulations, was allowed to take off until March 2000.

Once in an interview the British pilot Brian Martin let slip that he had in recent years regularly airlifted AK47 assault rifles to Central Africa as well as medical supplies for UNICEF. Brian Martin is known as the co-owner of Occidental Airlines (see further on). Alerted by this interview, a British pressure group started an investigation and identified the Boeing EL-ACP, being used by the Ostend company Air Charter Service Belgium for illicit arms transportation on the orders of a group of Dutch brokers.

Flight documents show that on November 3, 1999 the aircraft left Ostend empty for Burgas in Bulgaria. It took off at 14.56 hours as flight number ACH252F. After a fuel stop at Aswan, Egypt and having flown over Kenya under radio silence, it arrived the next day  in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, carrying 40 tonnes of military equipment. According to Amnesty International, the airport commandant at Ostend said he had interviewed the Belgian flight engineer on the trip in question, who confirmed that the cargo included anti-tank shoulder-fired weapons. Military experts believe the cargo included a Bulgarian portable surface-to-air missile system. The 40 tonnes of equipment were transferred to an Ilyushin freighter and flown to Kinshasa.

For its very last flight from Ostend in March 2000, EL-ACP was again planning the delivery of weaponry to Harare, intended for the Zimbabwean troops supporting Laurent Kabila against rebel forces backed by Rwanda and Uganda. On March 15 at 13.52 hours the plane took off under flight number ACH007 for Bratislava in Slovakia, where it had to collect its items for delivery to Zimbabwe. [18]

On June 5, 2001, Air Charter Service Belgium went bankrupt, but ACS activities from Ostend Airport continued under the direct management of ACS chairman, Christopher Dennis Leach. In May 2005 ACS finally switched Ostend as its aircraft base for Nottingham’s East Midlands airport.

Two companies, mentioned below, which were actively involved in arms dealing, disappeared from Ostend in 1997/98. However, the owner of the first mentioned company is back in Belgium and recommencing covertly his prior activities. The two companies are:

  Occidental Airlines
  Trans Aviation Network Group

1. In August 1997 a newspaper report indicated that Occidental Airlines, a company based at Ostend Airport was under investigation by the public prosecutor of Bruges. [19] Until 1998 Occidental Aviation Services NV, as the company was officially registered at the Ostend Commercial Trade Register, had its own large warehouse next to the airport control tower. Although it was pretended that his wife was the owner of the company, a former Belgian airline pilot, Ronald Rossignol, was in fact the owner, together with the British pilot Brian Martin.

Ronald Rossignol is the son of a senior political appointee in the office of P. Van den Boeynants, at the time when the latter was serving as Belgium’s Minister of Defence. [20] Ronald Rossignol had, prior to 1980, close connections with Brussels extreme right wing circles. [19] Since 1980 he has been involved in business with the Congo’s erstwhile President Mobutu. According to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, his name appeared on Interpol lists and he was arrested in 1984 in France and accused of fraudulent bankruptcy, to the extent of some BEF 800 million.

Despite the dubious past of R. Rossignol, placed once more under judicial scrutiny,  a senior civil servant of the Flemish authorities, Paul Waterlot, responsible for Ostend Airport’s promotion and information, eagerly defended R. Rossignol publicly in the press and reaffirmed in the name of the airport’s management board, full confidence in the aims of, and the services provided by, Occidental Airlines. [21]

The subject of the judicial investigation was a cargo of nearly forty tonnes of military equipment, to be sent to governmental or rebel forces in Angola. An Avistar Airlines Boeing 707 freighter, Cyprus-registered as 5B-DAZ (*18), was chartered for the trip by Occidental Airlines. Pending a Belgian Customs investigation the consignment, consisting of Dutch Army surplus items, had been impounded in Occidental’s warehouse for nine months. The cargo manifest showed an innocuous cargo of used clothing, vehicle parts and vehicles, but the cargo consisted of twenty tonnes of uniforms, an armoured car, multi-band radios and other equipment needed by a fighting force. After being impounded for nine months, the consignment was granted permission to be exported to England and was merely sent across the Channel by truck without arousing further interest.

On 12 May 1998 the Avistar aircraft took off from the civil airport side of RAF Manston in Kent, UK bound for Africa. The flight plan showed that the aircraft was bound for Kano in Nigeria to refuel and then to its reported final destination of Mmabatho in South Africa. After taking off from Kano, the aircraft temporarily disappeared. It never landed on Mmabatho’s runway, actually too short for a fully-laden Boeing 707, but it was observed around 04.00 hours on 13 May on the ground at Cabinda, Angola and reappeared some hours later at Lomé in Togo, empty. [22]

According to the UK newspaper The Observer of 14 March 1999, the same aircraft 5B-DAZ, which in 1997 made some 28 flights from Ostend flew, in December 1998, a cargo of weapons and ammunition from Hermes, the former Slovak state-owned arms manufacturer in Bratislava, to the Sudan, in breach of an EU embargo. The southern civilian population of  the Sudan was then subjected to violent oppression on religious grounds. The money paid by Hermes for the flight was split between the pilot, the crew and Ronald Rossignol, who acted as broker. While on its way for another delivery to the Sudan and again chartered by Rossignol, the aircraft left Bratislava on 7 February 1999, failed to achieve sufficient speed and ploughed into the mud at the end of the runway. Because of its long list of ongoing malfunctions, it was decided not to repair the aircraft.

In January 1999, the London Sunday Times reported that Occidental Airlines, together with the London-based Sky Air Cargo, was using ageing Boeing planes to transport about 400 tons of military equipment, 40 tons at a time, from Bratislava to Sierra Leone, from where the equipment was flown to rebel Congo airstrips, especially Goma and Kisangani. [6]

A Romanian daily, Evenimentul Zilei, reported in March 2002, that besides the Sky Air’s plane EL-JNS as already noted, aircraft of a company cooperating with Victor Bout’s arms smuggling, Flying Dolphin, as well as the aircraft chartered by the Belgian trafficker Ronald Rossignol used the military section of Otopeni airport, near Bucharest, as a touchdown base before leaving Romania, loaded with arms from Romanian company, Romtehnica.

Ronald Rossignol succeeded in his efforts to remain outside the grip of Belgian justice, which probably had insufficient legal grounds to take him into custody. The incapacity of local justice illustrates clearly the need for comprehensive international legislation and law enforcement, as well as underlining the ease with which arms brokers are able to take advantage of gaps within and between national legal systems.

However, since January 2001 Rossignol restarted his activities as a manager of a new company, called Red Rock and based at Brussels South Airport, while Belgian Justice again seemed to skip the opportunity of some action. Already a few months later Rossignol and his company were involved in illegal drugs traffic from Jamaica (see further on). Rossignol then took during a few years residence in Sandton, South-Africa, but he resumed his manager position, when Red Rock moved in December 2006 to an industrial area, next to the same Brussels South Airport.

2. Another Ostend-based company, which until 1997 was involved in arms smuggling, was NV Trans Aviation Network Group (hereafter “TAN Group”). The company was founded in 1995 and had its main office lodged in a brand-new building, called Jet Center, at the end of the motorway from Brussels to Ostend. The parent company of TAN Group, Air Cess is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, and seems to perform a pivotal function amongst different aircraft companies trafficking in arms. The brain of the organisation is a Russian ex-KGB major, Victor Anatolevic Bout (previously referred to), native of Tajikistan and undoubtedly on excellent terms with Russian and Ukrainian mafia and with former KGB-colleagues. As already noted, Victor Bout bought himself a luxurious house in a residential quarter of Ostend. His Belgian partner was a pilot, Ronald Desmet, formerly resident in France near the Swiss border.

Involvement in arms smuggling was first evidenced, when an insider revealed that Ronald Desmet paid the Air Cess-pilots USD10,000, in addition to their usual salaries, for each flight carrying arms and munitions. These flights were at that time mostly intended for Afghanistan. When this became known in Ostend and leaflets [23] with the names of those involved in illegal operations began appearing in mail boxes, Bout and his company Air Cess disappeared from Belgium, according to the director of IPIS and UN expert on illegal arms trade, Johan Peleman. [24] TAN Group decided in July 1997 to cancel the lease of its rented offices and to move to its Geneva office as well as to the parent company, Air Cess, afterwards renamed Air Bas, in Sharjah.

Ronald Desmet had formerly flown for the Saudi royal family [25] and held the authority to conduct business in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Liberian Aircraft Register. [26] Using these facts as proof of his integrity, he succeeded even in becoming a member of the Ostend Rotary club.

After he left Ostend, Victor Bout just went on with his sanctions-busting activities. According to a 1999 report of HRW, he had founded a subsidiary of Air Cess/Air Bas based at the South African airport of Pietersburg, called Air Pass. From Pietersburg, Air Pass, against UN regulations, transported fuel tanks, towing trucks, food and mining equipment to Unita-held areas of Angola. [27] During its activities, Air Pass had a direct link with a South African agency, Norse Air Charter, a subsidiary of the British air charter company Air Foyle of Luton. According to The Guardian (5 August 2000), it appears that Air Foyle had, through Norse Air Charter, a two-year business partnership with Victor Bout. [28]

Between July 1997 and October 1998, 37 flights left Burgas in Bulgaria carrying weapons worth $ 14 million and ending up in the hands of Unita forces in Angola, according to a UN-report of 21 December 2000. Victor Bout provided forged end-user certificates to the Gibraltar-based company KAS Engineering (previously referred to), which contracted the arms shipments from Bulgarian suppliers.

Shortly after South African authorities suspected him of smuggling arms to the Unita rebel forces, Victor Bout moved his operations to another company Air Cess Swaziland at Manzini airport. After the Swazi authorities discovered that his company was transporting military equipment, Victor Bout decided to move completely from southern Africa and to make Bangui in the Central African Republic his new African stronghold. [27]

On 19 April 2000 an Antonov aircraft AN-8, registered TL-ACM in the Central African Republic, crashed at an airport of the Democratic Republic of Congo, shortly after takeoff. There were no survivors. It was on a return flight with Rwandan army officers and some soldiers on board. The plane appeared to belong to Centrafrican Airlines, based at Bangui and to be co-owned by Ronald Desmet, the Belgian partner of Victor Bout. [14] Elsewhere an un-named company of Victor Bout has been reported flying in 1999 between the Central African Republic, Kisangani, the Congo and Kigali, Rwanda carrying arms, timber and precious stones. There is indeed also another company in Kigali, called Air Cess Rwanda, working with Russian and Ukrainian crew members and focussing its arms trade on the eastern region of the Congo and Angola. [29]

According to The Guardian, Victor Bout, who repeatedly changes the spelling of his name, is thought to operate a cargo fleet of some 20 ex-Soviet aircraft through several associated cargo companies based in various countries. It is almost impossible to trace all the aircraft linked with Victor Bout and his activities, since it is known that he usually leases his freighter aircraft to other operators and so can claim ignorance of  the business of sanctions-busting. However, two of Air Foyle’s Antonov 124s made several flights to and from Ostend during the two-year partnership of the British company with Victor Bout. In January 1999, a plane belonging to Victor Bout was flown in conjunction with aircraft of Sky Air and the partly Belgian-owned Occidental Airlines, to airlift arms from Bratislava to war-torn but diamond rich Sierra Leone. [6] Four of Bout’s Ilyushin aircraft are registered in Equatorial Guinea, a tiny African republic squeezed between Gabon and Cameroon and with Malabo as a capital, located on the islet Bioko. [30] Two of them were recorded in October 1999 at Ostend Airport’s official flight log, making flights to the United Arab Emirates. On a few occasions Victor Bout called upon the services of a company, known as Phoenix Aviation and owned by an Israeli of Russian origin. Two Phoenix Ilyushins were observed in August 1999 in Ostend and the last flight of one of them from Ostend was recorded in the official flight log on 29 January 2000 towards Khartoum in the Sudan.

According to the UN-report of December 2000, 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”. [31]

(Quick jump to Victor Bout’s air cargo companies!)

Challenged in 1997 to take legal action and to prevent the use of Belgian airports by Victor Bout’s companies and other companies suspected or convicted of arms trafficking, Belgian authorities retorted that such companies were not subject to the existing Belgian jurisdiction and thus admitted that this legal inadequacy indeed enables abusers to take advantage of the gaps within and between the different national legal systems. The result of the investigation, ultimately ordered by the Ministry of External Affairs, has never been published.

After Victor Bout swapped his action field in southern Africa for a safer one in central Africa, he was actively assisted by Sanjivan Ruprah, a politically well-connected Kenyan businessman of Indian extraction. Ruprah introduced Victor Bout in arms dealings with Liberia’s president Charles Taylor and with rebels in eastern Congo as well as in Sierra Leone. After his relationship with Charles Taylor started to deteriorate, Ruprah moved to Belgium in mid-2001 and was arrested in Brussels on 5 February 2002.

Victor Bout did better. Until allegations in the US media surfaced about links with Al Qaeda, Bout operated with impunity in Western democracies, former Eastern Bloc nations, and the developing world, through a maze of companies, exploiting lax and outdated regulations and changing his aircraft registrations from one country to another. Although for a long time the US authorities had turned a blind eye to his activities, Victor Bout suddenly became a main target of the US and the Western alliance, after the 11 September catastrophe and the subsequent assumption of his purported connections with Al Qaeda, until now not supported by any conclusive evidence.

Victor Bout had then to take refuge in Moscow, where he adamantly declared in the studios of radio Ekho Moskvy: ‘I deal exclusively with air transportation.’

However, Victor Bout’s alleged previous link with Al Qaeda doesn’t mean, in the view of US officials, that the US and UK governments shouldn’t cooperate with him. Indeed the US-UK coalition forces are using airlines owned by Victor Bout to transport supplies to Iraq. In 2003 a subsidiary of the British Gulf International Airlines (BGIA), headquartered in Sao Tome & Principe and with base in Sharjah, was created in Kyrgyzstan, and uses name, offices and staff of its Sao Tome counterpart. Intelligence agencies have linked Bout to this firm’s planes, and money transfers have been traced between BGIA and a Bout-linked company, San Air General Trading. BGIA’s flight manager admitted that his firm frequently flew supplies to several Iraqi locations. Also Bout’s Kazakhstan air company, Irbis Air, which took over assets and operations from Bout’s Air Cess/Air Bas, frequently flew into Iraq. Irbis planes bought fuel 142 times from military stocks in Baghdad. [32] Since Iraq airports are now the world's most dangerous, Bout's aircraft, pilots and personnel provide the US authorities with "plausible deniability" in case an airplane is downed. It is believed that Bout will be amnestied from the multitude of international charges he faces in return for his services. Indeed, in 2004 the Bush administration began to press for Bout to be left off planned UN sanctions, in spite of French efforts to freeze his assets and an outstanding Interpol warrant for his arrest. [33] When Condoleezza Rice was National Security Adviser, she pre-empted an attempt by United Arab Emirates authorities to arrest Bout at Sharjah and gave clear orders to the CIA and FBI not to touch him. [34] Through BGIA and Irbis Air, Bout is now running arms for the Bush administration. Since 9/11 he changed from an international pariah into a potential asset for U.S. intelligence services. His air-freight services continue being used not only by the U.S. military for arms transportation but by the United Nations as well for relief transportation, himself so buttering his toast on both sides. [35]

Healing news. According to Associated Press (6 March 2008), Russian arms dealer Victor Bout has been arrested in Bangkok on suspicion of having delivered arms and explosives to the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC. However, according to BBC News (11 August 2009 - *), Thailand rejects a US request for Bout’s extradition.

To whatever degree Ostend Airport has hosted major arms dealers, the airport continues being the host to some dubious companies. There are additional disturbing facts to be anxious about, including the precise role of Ostend Airport in what has been described as “the octopus that is the arms trade”. Additional disturbing facts are:

  According to the UK’s Daily Express of 9 June 1996, in April 1996 the British pilot Christopher Barrett-Jolley bought a small BAC 1-11 freighter that was due to be scrapped, and persuaded the British authorities to allow him to fly it to Ostend, supposedly to sell the parts. Once there, however, he put the plane on the Liberian register and formed a new company, Balkh Air, to fly arms from Bulgaria to a warlord in northern Afghanistan. Barrett-Jolley was also the pilot, who should have flown the arms-laden Boeing 707, 5B-DAZ, chartered by Ronald Rossignol’s Occidental Airlines, from Bratislava to Khartoum in the Sudan on 7 February 1999. Ironically, he could then not be present to fly the plane. So an unlicensed crew boarded the freighter, but unaware of its defects they failed to get the plane into the air and, as recounted earlier, it crashed into the mud at the runway’s end. Another old Boeing 707 with Afghan registration YA-GAF (*19a) has been standing since 1997 on Ostend Airport in a state of increasing dilapidation and was ultimately broken up end of June 2004 (*19b). First owned by Uganda Airlines, it was afterwards owned by Balkh Air, the company of the enigmatic British pilot and moreover linked to one of the most cruel warlords in Afghanistan, Rashid Dostum.

   Barrett-Jolley’s unlawful behaviour is further illustrated by his due appearance in court on 19 October 2001. A few days earlier, after a Boeing 707 freighter (msn 19179), registered in Equatorial Guinea as 3C-GIG (*20), arrived at night from Jamaica at Southend Airport, Essex, UK, pilot Barrett-Jolley was caught red-handed and charged with smuggling 270 kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of £22 million. [36] The plane had been chartered by Ronald Rossignol’s new Belgian company Red Rock, based at Brussels South Airport and which he manages since its establishment in 2001. The plane, now registered as 9L-LDU (*21), was sold in October 2003 to and active until its crash in Istanbul (23 December 2005) with Air Leone, formerly Ibis Air Transport and controlled by Executive Outcomes and its sister company Sandline International. [37]

In 1994 Barrett-Jolley flew arms to the Unita rebels in Angola and to South Yemen during the vicious civil war. In December 1994, one of his planes crashed outside Coventry airport, due to outdated equipment and improper maintenance, killing five people.

  In 1997 an ageing Boeing 707, registered as 5Y-SIM (*22), made 39 flights from Ostend Airport. The aircraft was operated by the Kenyan company, Simba Airlines, formed by Sanjivan Ruprah, a close associate of notorious arms dealer Victor Bout. Due to European Community directives, Simba Airlines lost in 1998 its landing allowance on Belgian airports. Sanjivan Ruprah, himself an arms broker, was also linked to the private military company (PMC), Executive Outcomes, responsible for killing many African people during the civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone. He was in charge of Simba Airlines, until investigations into financial irregularities forced the company’s closure. [38] There was also a close company relationship between Simba Airlines and Ibis Air Transport, that became in 1999 Executive Outcomes’ airline company Air Leone, based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sanjivan Ruprah was arrested in Belgium, after evidence emerged of links between Victor Bout and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

  In May 1997 a Boeing 707 of Ibis Air Transport, alias Air Leone, alias Capricorn Flights, and registered as P4-JCC (*23) visited twice Ostend Airport. It was also seen at Sharjah in February 1998. Before that, it had visited Ostend registered as YR-JCC and operated by the Romania-based company, Jaro International. The aircraft was later sold to the Sudan-based Azza Transport Company.

  Before Victor Bout started his business in Ostend, the airport of this town was, according to Human Rights Watch, already since at least 1994 harbouring aircraft connected with arms deliveries to embargoed African countries. In its report on the April 1994 Rwandan genocide [39], HRW reported that an arms shipment arrived in mid-June 1994 in Goma on an aircraft registered in Liberia, with a Belgian crew from Ostend, which picked up arms in Libya, including artillery, ammunition and riffles from old government stocks. This arms shipment was probably the one to which the leaflets [22] distributed in Ostend mail boxes alluded, bringing this Liberian-registered aircraft into connection with Bout’s associate, Ronald Desmet, who had boasted in the presence of a local Ostend politician, that he held the authority to conduct business on behalf of the Liberian Aircraft Register. [25] However, these weapons were then to be delivered from Goma in what was then known as Zaire to the Rwandan Hutu armed forces at Gisenyi, just across the Rwandan border.

An earlier flight with arms took place on 25 May. A Boeing 707 aircraft, Nigerian-registered as 5N-OCL (*24), arrived at Goma carrying 39 tons of arms and ammunition. [40] The aircraft was said to have carried a single passenger, listed as “Bagosera T.”. It is also known that Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, a top official from the former Rwandan government forces and reputed to be one of the main organizers of the April 1994 genocide, was at that time eagerly in search of weapons to counter the Tutsi RPF armed forces. [39] The 5N-OCL Boeing was operated by Overnight Cargo Nigeria, a short-lived company from 1992 to 1994, period in which the Boeing was a regular visitor to Ostend Airport.

In December 2008 Bagosora was sentenced for life in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, for his role in masterminding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. [40a]

  In its Bulgaria report of 1999, HRW mentions the case of a Boeing 707 flying from Burgas to Bujumbura, Burundi, and grounded in Lagos, Nigeria, after weapons were discovered on board. The plane was operated by Trans Arabian Air Transport of Sudan, left Burgas airport in mid-February 1998, and made a stopover in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where part of its cargo was unloaded, before stopping in Lagos to refuel on its way to Burundi. A close aide to Burundian president Buyoya was aboard the plane and was later promoted to the post of defence minister. [41] Two of the Trans Arabian Air Transport Boeings, 5X-ARJ/ST-ANP (*25) and ST-AMF (*26), made in 1997 a combined total of 45 flights from Ostend Airport.

  On 17 November 2000, a 33 years old Boeing 707, owned by Equaflight Service, an airline company with operating base at Pointe Noire, Congo-Brazzaville, landed at Ostend Airport. It was registered as TN-AGO (*27). Before that, it was operated by Air Ghana and registered as 9G-AYO. Just before becoming TN-AGO, the plane was temporarily Thai-registered as HS-TFS, astonishingly the same registration number which was seen on another aircraft in September 1999 (see further on). The previous ‘Thai Flying Services’ titles were still slightly visible on this new-registered aircraft. However, in 1997 the same aircraft, registered as EL-RDS, made 6 of the 12 flights executed in that year from Ostend Airport by airplanes of Air Cess, one of Victor Bout’s main airline companies. Four of the 12 flights were executed by the Air Cess Ilyushin EL-RDX, which became afterwards registered as TL-ACU and operated by Bout’s Centrafrican Airlines and whose deliveries of helicopters, other military equipment and ammunition in July and August 2000 to Liberia are well documented. [42] On 4 January 2001, TN-AGO took off from Ostend for Chateauroux in France. On 7 September 2001, the airplane crashed at Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and sustained substantial damage when the undercarriage collapsed and two engines detached.

  Another aircraft seen at Ostend Airport, has been involved in illegal arms traffic. On 29 September 2001 an Antonov-12, registered as UR-UCK and owned by Ukrainian Cargo Airways, landed at the Bratislava airport. The aircraft was expected to pick up for onward shipment to Angola additional cargo, that just before had been unloaded from an Iranian Ilyushin plane. This Iranian cargo appeared to be 504 units of rocket-propelled grenades, but it did not match the consignment-note. Consequently the munitions cargo was impounded and so prevented from being loaded onto the Antonov-12, which was allowed to take off for a military airport in Israel en route to Angola, after Slovak authorities had been pressurized to release the consignment. UR-UCK’s own cargo, collected on departure from Ukraine on behalf of the Israeli private military company LR Avionics Technologies, consisted of spare parts for military aircraft. During a fuel-stop at Mwanza in Tanzania [43], the aircraft was halted, since authorities discovered undeclared weapons cargo. Nevertheless, it was allowed to leave on orders of top Tanzanian security officials.[44] LR Avionics is known to belong to former military pilots and to have sold under controversial circumstances Ukrainian radar systems for military and civil use in Angola, Congo and Ethiopia. [45]

The aircraft UR-UCK also visited Ostend from 2000 to 2002 and was in the second half of 2002 leased in by the Ostend-based company Air Charter Service (*28).

As recounted earlier, Moldovan Aerocom was, together with Belgium’s Ducor World Airlines, convicted of illegal arms transport to Liberia in the summer of 2002 [15b]. After its gunrunning was the subject of too much public exposure, Aerocom got its air transport operating certificate revoked in August 2004. [58] Asterias Commercial, a company in Greece with base in Ukraine, but since its creation in 1996 left as a dormant shell company, was promptly reactivated so as to continue Aerocom’s operations.

One of Asterias’ airplanes was frequently seen at Ostend, first leased from November 2004 to Ostend-based Air Charter Service (*29) and afterwards consecutively operated by Moldovan companies Airline Transport and Aeronord-Group. Other tasks, usually assigned to Aerocom, were from the date of its decertification executed by Victor Bout-linked Jet Line International. Aircraft operated by Jet Line frequently visited Ostend during 2005. [59]

  On 31 December 2002 an airplane, registered in the Central African Republic (CAR) as TL-ADJ (*30), requested to make an emergency landing at Ostend Airport, since the landing gears didn’t come in after take-off in Southend. In 1997 this plane, registered as 9Q-CBW (*31), was a regular visitor to Ostend Airport and executed 106 flights from Ostend on behalf of Scibe Airlift Congo. This company closed down and the plane was then stored at Southend airport. After 5 years of storage, the plane was supposed to leave on 13 December 2002 for Tripoli, Libya, but due to technical problems the aircraft was kept on the ground. It left then Southend on 31 December bound for Mitiga, Libya, but within 30 minutes it landed at Ostend. On 3 January 2003 the aircraft was supposed to leave Ostend for Mitiga, but again it was kept on the ground. Technical control, ordered by the Belgian authorities, showed a long list of deficiencies. The logo on the plane’s tail ‘AL’ stands for African Lines, a company which is probably linked to Centrafrican Airlines of the Belgian pilot Ronald Desmet, former associate of notorious arms dealer Victor Bout. According to UN-reports, Centrafrican Airlines is known for having airlifted arms from Bangui in the CAR to several war zones in Africa, mainly those in the DRC. According to the Belgian daily De Morgen of 24 January 2003, it also appeared that Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the rebel movement MLC (Mouvement de Libération du Congo) was immediately lobbying to get the aircraft in the air and it was known that Bemba, still fighting then for primacy in the northern part of the DRC, got arms and ammunition airlifted from the CAR. Eventually under ongoing pressure of Bemba, who meanwhile became one of the six vice-presidents of the transitional government of the DRC, and after a French company willingly delivered a valid “release to service” certificate, the aircraft took off from Ostend on 6 August 2003 and minutes later ended up at the airport of Reims in France, after again an emergency landing.

The defunct airline company Scibe Airlift was owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba’s father Bemba Saolana, a wealthy businessman in the then Zaire under Mobutu. The company kept offices at Ostend Airport, called Scibe CMMJ. Bemba Saolana and one of Mobutu’s sons controlled in addition to Scibe, several smaller airline companies, that formed the vital lifeline that enabled Unita to re-emerge as a highly capable rebel movement in Angola in the mid 1990s. Scibe Airlift had one of its planes grounded when it refused a customs check after arriving at N’Djili airport in Kinshasa from Belgium in early 1997. [46]

  An ageing Ghana-registered Boeing 707 (9G-EBK) made about ten flights with arms from Plovdiv in Bulgaria to South Yemen. This was at a time when that country was subject to an international arms embargo. The aircraft was operated by the Ghana-based company, Imperial Cargo Airlines, and was seen with this registration at Ostend Airport. In 1997 the same aircraft, registered as 9G-SGF, made 40 flights from Ostend Airport and was then operated by the Nigerian-based Sky Power Express Airways and leased from Ghana’s Al-Waha Aviation, owner of this sole airplane. With the Thai registration number HS-TFS (*32), already seen before on another plane, as pointed out earlier, the aircraft reappeared at Ostend Airport in September 1999 with titles of the operating company, Thai Flying Services. It took off from Ostend for Sharjah, which reportedly became its new home base. Afterwards the plane with a new registration (9G-JET) was sold to Johnsons Air of Ghana, which has Accra and Sharjah as operating bases and is closely associated with a Belgian company First International Airlines.

  On 18 November 2000, the day after the Equaflight Boeing TN-AGO landed in Ostend, a 35 years old Boeing 707 (9G-LAD) owned by Ghana’s Johnsons Air, landed at Ostend Airport. In 1997 this plane was operated by a Nigerian company, Merchant Express Aviation, based in Lagos, and registered as 5N-MXX (*33), it made 83 flights from Ostend Airport. In 1998 Merchant Express ceased all activities and the aircraft became Johnsons Air 9G-LAD (*34). Johnsons Air works in league with the Belgian company, First International Airlines. The company, first based near the town of Tournai, is now based in Brussels. It has office and  PO box at the Ostend Airport and uses the air transport operating certificate of Ghana’s Johnsons Air. The man in charge of First International is an Iranian, Niknafs Javad. He was a pilot who, earlier in his career, flew for David Tokoph’s Seagreen. It is not clear if his company still works as a subcontractor for Tokoph. Rumours that First International Airlines is flying arms between Azerbaijan and China have not been confirmed. Another Johnsons Air Boeing 707 (P4-OOO) operated by First International and seen at Ostend Airport, crashed on 16 January 1997 on Kananga airport in the former Zaire. As the right main gear collapsed on landing, the aircraft ran off the side of the runway and caught fire.

First International is also related to an obscure airline company, Cargo Plus Aviation, first registered in Equatorial Guinea afterwards in Ghana and with bases in Dubai and Sharjah. The First International office at the airport bears the nameplate with corresponding logo of Cargo Plus, and both companies share their commodities. Meanwhile they left their office at the airport for another office in town.

  At Ostend Airport, Johnsons Air itself shares since the end of 2003 office, station manager and PO box with HeavyLift, which is part of Christopher Foyle’s airline company Air Foyle, as recounted earlier, known from its two-year business partnership with arms dealer Victor Bout. [27] HeavyLift seems to be the air broker, who organises from Ostend the Johnsons Air flights. However, both companies recently left the Ostend airport after a few adverse publications.

Johnsons Air was formed in 1995 by Farhad Azima, a native of Iran, resident in the U.S. since the 1950s and member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Azerbajan Chamber of Commerce [47]. At the time of HeavyLift’s shutdown, Azima was its chairman. Reputed as a mayor gunrunner [48], he is also suspected to have had close ties to the CIA and has been linked to the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal as well as to all kinds of criminal activities [49].

On 7 August 2003 an ageing Boeing 707 landed at Robertsfield International Airport in war-torn Liberia. It was filled with arms including rocket launchers, automatic weapons and ammunition. [50] The Boeing was owned by Johnsons Air. It was bearing the same registration number as the just above described aircraft, 9G-LAD and was probably operating from Sharjah. In fact it was executing this flight in a series of three Johnsons arms flights to Monrovia. [51] But it is not quite clear which airline company was operating the plane at the time when it landed in Liberia. According to certain sources, the operating company might as well have been First International (*35) or Race Cargo (*36).

Also Race Cargo Airlines has for years an office at Ostend Airport and even a full-owned warehouse. The Belgian company, officially registered at the Ostend Commercial Trade Register, has a Ghanaian counterpart in Accra, while the UK branch has been liquidated. Since May 2002 the Belgian Race Cargo was closely associated with the Egyptian Air Memphis, until early April 2004, when Air Memphis aircraft SU-AVZ (*14), a well-known visitor to Ostend, was badly damaged. Afterwards, the Belgian Race Cargo was used as aircraft handling company by Ghana-registered MK Airlines, which switched in 2004 its base at Manston Airport for Ostend. Eventually also the Belgian Race went bankrupt in June 2006. At that time Race Cargo Ghana had already become a dormant company, however having handed over its flight certificate to Ghana-registered Cargo Plus Aviation.

Almost at the same time when the arms flight at Robertsfield Airport was notified, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority suspended the licence of the aircraft 9G-LAD as well as the air transport operating certificate of Race Cargo, suspecting the Ghanaian company of being the owner of the aircraft and attempting to deliver the arms consignment to the Liberian government. [52] Apparently, Race Cargo was back in the air for a short time, leasing Johnsons Air B707, 9G-IRL (*37), until the plane crashed in Entebbe on 19 March 2005, then operating for Ethiopian Airlines, another long-time visitor to Ostend.

However, two weeks earlier than the first Johnsons arms flight, on 23 May 2003 a Boeing 707 of Air Memphis Uganda, a daughter company of Egypt’s Air Memphis, 5X-AMU, also transported arms and ammunition to the Robertsfield Airport in Monrovia [51], exposing the complexity of interconnections of companies at work in Ostend.

It seems that at least Johnsons, First International, Race Cargo and HeavyLift intended since 2003 to work in league from Ostend Airport. Therefore, Johnsons Air bought two old DC8 planes from Silk Way Airlines of Azerbaijan, which used Ostend Airport as the home base for both planes (*38, *39). First International bought another ageing DC8 from liquidated Aer Turas of Ireland, stored at the airport (*40). Initially, the three airplanes were meant to operate from Ostend. Two of them already took off, but the third one, recently put on the Swiss list of aircraft banned owing to safety concerns, has not been taken up for the time being. The First International DC8 has meanwhile been leased out to an obscure Saudi company with operating base in Nigeria, Al-Dawood Air.

From February to August 2003, Al-Dawood, founded in 2002, had another DC8, Congo-registered as 9Q-CAD (*41), operating from Ostend and using the meanwhile defunct ICAO airline code “CAX” of a Swiss company, Capax-Air-Unitreva, which is said to be part of the financial Bin Laden ramifications. [53]

▪ The linkage of Ostend Airport with arms trafficking companies seems to be a never ending story. According to the London Sunday Times of July 3 [54] and an Amnesty International report of July 5, 2005 [55], African International Airways made a total of six flights from Albania to the Rwandan capital of Kigali in late 2002 and early 2003 in breach of UN sanctions, carrying more than 250 tons of arms in DC8 freighter aircraft. The arms cargo, consisting of machinegun and pistol ammunition, grenades and rocket launchers, ended up in the hands of Rwandan-backed rebel groups based in the conflict-ridden eastern Congo province of Ituri and found guilty of widespread torture, rape and murder. African Int’l Airways is since many years a very regular visitor to the Ostend Airport. So were also both Swaziland-registered AIA DC8 planes (*42, *43), responsible for the arms flights and one South African-registered AIA DC8 (*44), reportedly exported to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and so are two still regularly visiting South African-registered AIA DC8 planes (*45, *46). Organizer of the arms transport was a UK charter broker, Platinum Air Cargo, which had also an Ostend-registered branch with seat adjacent to the airport.

On 18 October 2004 a 35 year old DC8 landed at Ostend Airport and stayed for some ten weeks for maintenance and refurbishing. Registered as 9XR-SC (*47), the aircraft is owned by the Rwandan-based company, Silverback Cargo Freighters, founded in 2002. According to the Amnesty report of July 5, 2005 [55], both DC8 aircraft of Silverback, 9XR-SC and 9XR-SD carried out another series of ammunition deliveries from Albania to Kigali from April to June 2003. Between March and September 2004 the Silverback-plane 9XR-SC was leased out to International Air Services to transport further quantities of arms from Eastern Europe to Rwanda. As recounted earlier, the latter Liberia-registered company is the last but one creation of arms dealer Duane Egli. It took over both remaining Lockheed TriStars from Egli’s in 2003 bankrupt Ducor World Airlines, which in mid 2002 supplied weapons to Charles Taylor’s Liberia.

In an interview in the French newspaper L’Humanité of April 5, 2005 [56], Hubert Sauper, film director of an award-winning documentary film “Darwin’s Nightmare”, mentions this Ducor airlift of military supplies to Burundi through the Mwanza airport. The film is a tale about the devastating fish industry around the Lake Victoria and about arms fish trade. It is distinctive that freighters seen in “Darwin’s Nightmare” [57] are those, well-known as long-time visitors to the Ostend airport: SU-AVZ (*48) of Air Memphis and ZS-OSI (*49) of African International Airways, both wet-leased by Egli’s International Air Services, ER-IBV (*50) of Moldovan Jet Line International, linked to Victor Bout, OD-AGP (*51) of TMA of Lebanon, 9G-MKG (*52) and 9G-MKK (*53) of MK Airlines, which switched in 2004 its base at Manston airport for a reportedly cheaper Ostend Airport.

MK Airlines operates mainly on African destinations, regularly on behalf of Congo’s Hewa Bora Airways and of Togo’s Africa West Air, the latter company having organised in June 2003 flights with weapons and ammunition destined for the Mayi-Mayi rebels in South Kivu, DRC [55]. Especially in support of newcomer MK, the government of the Flemish Region started building a brand-new warehouse, operational since 2006.

In its report of May 10, 2006, in connection with arms transportation [58], Amnesty International points the finger at Ostend’s airport as an airport “where economic or political factors have made the scrutiny of cargoes a rare event”. In the same report, Amnesty mentions by name several airlines involved in arms transport. Many of them have over the years been known visitors to Ostend Airport and, though since many years covertly and since 2005 fully promoted by a prominent Belgian socialist politician, the airport was until recently for certain of such airlines and is so far for others still a harbour: African International Airways, Vega Airlines, Volare Aviation Enterprise and Asterias Commercial, in 2006 converted to Moldova-based Aeronord-Group [59].

Ostend Airport seems unable or supposedly unwilling to finish with arms transport connected companies nor has efficient action to clean up the mess been undertaken by Belgian authorities, so that one could suspect some complicity of Belgian politics in sustaining arms traffic organizers at the airport. This is further evidenced by the continuing presence of dodgy companies, reportedly removed from the airport but still established on other locations in Ostend and consequently hardly believed to be inactive: Aero Zambia, Avicon Aviation, First International, Cargo Plus Aviation and Linhas Aéreas de Angola.

In a report of 1998, HRW states: “Crossing borders with extreme ease, the arms traffickers have truly multinational networks and pipelines. The Ostend operators, for example, reside in Belgium, collect their cargo from eastern European suppliers and deliver to clients across the world”.

Bulgaria and Slovakia are major sources of arms to be transported to war zones. Airports from where the arms transfer is organised or effected are mainly Burgas and Plovdiv in Bulgaria, Bratislava in Slovakia, a number of Russian airports, Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the airport of Ostend. The arms  are subsequently delivered to the Sudanese airport of Khartoum, the Tanzanian airport of Mwanza, to Sierra Leone, Angola, the Congo or other war zones.

Picture (*54) taken in 1996 at the Ostend airport illustrates well the Ostend involvement in arms dealing. Five out of the six Boeings shown have been involved in arms traffic: 5N-TNO of Air Atlantic Cargo, 5B-DAZ of Avistar, EL-JNS of Sky Air Cargo, 9G-ADS and (hidden behind 9G-ADS) EL-AKJ both of Occidental Airlines.

The complexity of arms trafficking networks is intended to make transactions untraceable. However, it is difficult to agree when this complexity and the lack of concordant European arms trade legislation are used to justify abusive practices at Ostend Airport. In addition, it is generally known that Ostend Airport is economically not viable. This also has caused some people to suggest, that involvement in the arms trade, and the concurrent financial support of evil-minded organisations and even the acceptance of bribes by officials are tolerated to ensure the survival of a heavily subsidised body.

Whatever blame can be adduced to the Belgian authorities, some burgeoning of a serious political will is expected to be seen in order to create an appropriate legal framework and to obtain its approval by the other members of the European Community, so as to put an end to this unacceptable trafficking in arms.

Association for a Clean Ostend


    [1]  IPIS
    [4]  Belgian newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, 30 November 1996
    [5]  IPIS brochure 114, page 56
    [6]  London Sunday Times, 10 January 1999
    [7]  Britons involved in Africa gun-running
    [8]  UK newspaper The Observer, 31 January 1999
    [9]  Stoking fires with arms in Burundi
  [10]  Lockheed L1011 Information, News 2002
  [11]  History N822DE
  [12]  Lockheed L1011 Information, Production List
  [13]  Bulgaria once again among ‘The Usual suspects’ in Arms Deals
  [14]  UN-reports 21 December 2000 & 9 April 2002
 [15a] Belgrade arms to Liberia in violation of U.N. sanctions 
 [15b] Serbian Gunrunners in Africa
  [16]  ACS, Moscow
  [17]  ACS, UK
  [18]  UK newspaper The Guardian, 15 April 2000
  [19]  Belgian newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, 16 August 1997
  [20]  IPIS brochure 123, page 45
  [21]  Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, 21 August 1997
  [22]  Fax memorandum, July 1998, British source
  [23]  Leaflet distributed in Ostend mail boxes
  [24]  Belgian Police Get on the Trail of “the Quiet Russian”
  [25]  La Lettre du Continent N° 334, 29 July 1999
  [26]  UN-report S/2000/1225 of 21 December 2000, paragraph 142
  [27]  Angola Unravels, IX Arms Trade and Embargo Violations, South-Africa
  [28]  UK newspaper The Guardian, 20 August 2000
  [29]  The Arms Fixers, Chapter 5, Ex-Soviet Business Steps In
  [30]  JP Airline Fleets International, 1999-2000
  [31]  UN-report December 2000, pages 38-39

  [32]  Los Angeles Times, 14 December 2004

  [33]  From international outlaw to valued partner, 21 October 2004
  [34]  Wayne Madsen Report, 11 December 2005
  [35]  Article Washington Post, 23 September 2007
  [36]  Article ic Birmingham, 6 December 2002
  [37]  The Arms Fixers, Chapter 7, The Mercenary Routes
  [38]  UN-report S/2000/1195 of 20 December 2000
  [39]  Rearming with Impunity, Human Rights Watch report, May 1995
  [40]  UN-report S/1997/1010 of 24 December 1997
 [40a]  BBC News, 18 December 2008
  [41]  Bulgaria: Arms Dealing with Human Rights Abusers, HRW-report, April 1999
  [42]  HRW-report on Slovakia’s Arms Trade, Case Study 1, February 2004

  [43]  Article The East African, 24 June 2002
  [44]  HRW-report on Slovakia’s Arms Trade, Case Study 2, February 2004
  [45]  Forum Ukraine, 24 April 2002
  [46]  The logistics of sanctions busting: the airborne component
  [47]  Website United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce
  [48]  The Conservative Newsletter, 10 February 2001

  [49]  Organized Crime, the CIA and the Savings and Loan Scandal
  [50]  Article ClariNews, 7 August 2003
  [51]  UN-report S/2004/396 of 1 June 2004, pages 17-22 & 52-53
  [52]  Ghana News Space FM, 8 August 2003
  [53]  Naming names: The Bin Laden Galaxy
  [54]  London Sunday Times, 3 July 2005
  [55]  Democratic Republic of Congo: arming the east, Amnesty International report, 5 July 2005
  [56]  Interview with H. Sauper, L’Humanité, 5 April 2005
  [57]  Documentary film ‘Darwins Nightmare’
  [58]  Dead on time, Amnesty International report, 10 May 2006
  [59]  Aeronord-Group, Wiloo-report, 5 March 2007



Likely to be consulted:
www.globalpolicy.org/security/sanction/angola/0012rprt.htm#IX (paragraphs 123-143)


Operators on Ostend Airport/situation September 2007 (in Dutch) 

Victor Bout’s air cargo companies

According to The Guardian, Victor Bout is thought to operate a cargo fleet of some 20 ex-Soviet aircraft through several associated cargo companies. This seems to be an underestimation, as evidenced hereafter.




    [ ¨]


Victor Bout’s Fleet


[ ¨]




















Operating Base

Sharjah, UAE

Pietersburg, SA

Sharjah, UAE

Ras-al-Khaimah, UAE

Ilyushin 76T








TL-ACN  derelict Umm Alquwain

Ilyushin 76M


EL-RDX (*)   “ 

3D-RTX (*55)


(*56) TL-ACU  to 3C-QRA (¨Air Bas)


Private user, Russia



    Became UN-76497 (GST Aero Aircompany, Kazakhstan)

Ilyushin 76T




3D-RTA (*)(*57)





Veteran AL, Russia




Became UN-76007 (GST Aero Aircompany, Kazakhstan)

Ilyushin 76T







TL-ACH  to 3C-QRB (¨Air Bas)


Tyumen AL, Russia







(Fate unknown)

Ilyushin 76MD








TL-ADH                  (Fate unknown)

Ilyushin 62M









GosNii GA





                Became C5-GNM (Gambia New Millenium Air)

Ilyushin 62M





                 3C-QQR (*58)    


Jetline Int’l




Became 5A-DNY (Jetline Int’l, Equ. Guinea)

Ilyushin 62M






Became TL-ABW (Jetline Int’l, Equ. Guinea)


Mekong Air






Boeing 707



Became YA-PAM (Pamir, Afghanistan) and 9G-OLD (Johnsons Air)


HeavyLift Cargo, UK


Boeing 707


EL-RDS (*)(*59)







Hewa Bora, Congo

                                                                 Became 9G-AYO (Air Ghana) and TN-AGO (Equaflight)

Tupolev 154M








TL-ACF (*60)


Baltic Express






Became ER-TAG (Moldtransavia,, Moldava)

Yakovlev 42D








became UN-42428 (¨Irbis Air)

Yakovlev 40







 became  TL-ACO


Estonian Air







            (crash 19/05/1999 Berberati)

Yakovlev 40







TL-ACP (*61)


Estonian Air





Became RA-87333 (Polyot Rossiskaya, Russia)

Yakovlev 40








TL-ACQ to EX-87802 (¨Air Bas)


Estonian Air







          Became ER-YGC (Renan Air)

Yakovlev 40







TL-ACH (damaged in Kenya)

Antonov 72








EL-ALX (*63) to ES-NOH, Enimex

Antonov 72






became TL-ACV (*64) stored Ras Al Khaimah

Antonov 72















(crash 06/10/2000, Luzamba, Angola)

Antonov 72








TL-ADF (*65)  to Lybian Arab Air

Ilyushin 18V

YR-IME, Tarom




Became EL-AHO (Santa Cruz Imperial, Liberia)

Ilyushin 18V

YR-IMD, Tarom


Became EL-ADY (Santa Cruz), EX-7504 (KAS Air), ER-ICM(Renan), EX-011(Phoenix)

Ilyushin 18D


EL-AKQ (*66) à  3D-SBQ (*67)   à

3C-KKL (*68)         became UN-75005 (*69) (¨Irbis Air)

Ilyushin 18V




3D-SBC (*70) became 3C-KKJ (*71)



Air Zory (*) (*72)






            became UN-75003 (*73) (¨Irbis Air)

Ilyushin 18D




3D-SBW (*74) became 3C-KKK (*75)



Polonian AW






             became UN-75004 (*76) (¨Irbis Air)

Ilyushin 18D




3D-SBZ (*77)



(destroyed Nov 1998, Congo)


Polonian AW







Ilyushin 18V

EL-ARK (*78)





3C-KKR (*79)



Santa Cruz






             became UN-75002 (*80) (¨Irbis Air)

Antonov 12BP


EL-AKN (*81) à 3D-SKN (*82) became 3C-KKO


became 3C-KKO (¨Air Bas)


VonHaaf Air,Luanda







 (Fate unknown)

Antonov 12BP


EL-AKR (*83)



Became YA-PAA (Pamir Air) and EL-ALF (Santa Cruz)

Antonov 12BP


EL-AKV (*84)





TL-ACJ                    (Fate unknown)

Antonov 12BP





Became YA-PAB (Pamir Air) and EL-ALJ (*85) (Santa Cruz)

Antonov 12BP


EL-RDL (*) (*86) à 3D-RDL

became TL-ACR (*87) stored RasAlKhaimah

Antonov 12V






3C-OOZ (*88)        became UN-11007 (*89) (¨Irbis Air)







(crash 31/03/2005, Mukalla, Yemen)

Antonov 24RV


EL-AKO (*90)





(stored Brazzaville)

Antonov 24RT


EL-AKP (*91) à  3D-SBP (*92)   à

3C-KKM (*93)

(to Force Aérienne Congolaise)

Antonov 24RV






3C-KKH (*94)

(stored Kinshasa-N’Djili)

Antonov 26B







             became UN-26582 (*95) (¨Irbis Air)








and leased out to Ariana Afghan AL

Antonov 26B

ER-AFN, Aerocom













Became ER-AFN (Jet Line Int’l, Moldova)

Antonov 32A














             Became 3C-QQT (Great Lakes Business Co, Goma, Congo)

Antonov 32B







(crash 07/05/98, Vaal Water, South Africa)

Antonov 32







Became 7Q-YWY (Private user, Malawi)

Antonov 32








TL-ACD                   (Fate unknown)

Antonov 32








TL-ACS (*96)          (Fate unknown)










  [¨]  Air Cess has been renamed Air Bas, and after Victor Bout took refuge in Moscow, all operations were taken over

         by Bout’s Kazakhstan company, Irbis Air Company

  (*)  also seen at Ostend Airport











Irbis Air Company, Kazakhstan [¨]





Operating bases: Almaty; Sharjah, UAE; Riyan, Yemen







Irbis registration


Yakovlev 42D

3C-LLL, Air Bas, Equatorial Guinea


Leased to Sudan Airways (*97)

Ilyushin 18V

3C-KKR, Air Bas, Equatorial Guinea


(*80) to Mega AL, Kazakhstan

Ilyushin 18V

3C-KKJ, Air Bas, Equatorial Guinea


(*73) to Mega AL, Kazakhstan

Ilyushin 18D

3C-KKK, Air Bas, Equatorial Guinea


(*76) to Mega AL, Kazakhstan

Ilyushin 18D

3C-KKL, Air Bas, Equatorial Guinea


(*69) to Mega AL, Kazakhstan

Antonov 12V

3C-OOZ, Air Bas, Equatorial Guinea

UN-11007                       (*89)

crash 31/03/2005, Mukalla, Yemen

Antonov 26B

CCCP-26582, Aeroflot


(*95) leased to Ariana Afghan AL
























Cooperating or related Fleets




Phoenix Aviation, Kyrgyzstan (renamed AVE December 2005)





Operating base: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates





MaxAvia, Kyrgyzstan (created 2006) []





Operating base: Baghdad, Iraq





Type & msn


Phoenix registration




Ilyushin 76TD (23442218)

EP-ALC, Atlas Air, Iran

ST-AQA (*)

(*98) to GST Aero (UN-76002)

Ilyushin 76TD (53460795)

EP-ALA, Atlas Air, Iran

ST-AQB (*)

(*99) to Azza Transport, Sudan (ST-AQB)

Ilyushin 76TD (1023408265)

EP-ALD, Atlas Air, Iran

T9-CAB (*)  (*100)       

became XT-FCB (*), Faso Air, Burkina (*101)

Ilyushin 76TD (23437076)

EP-ALB, Atlas Air, Iran

T9/ST-CAC (*)

(*102) stored Fujairah, UAE

Ilyushin 18D (188011105)

RA-74267, Tyumen Airlines, Russia


(*103) crash 04/02/2004 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Ilyushin 18V (182004804)

ER-ICM, Renan Air, Moldova


(*104) to Aerovista, Kyrgyzstan (EX-011)

Ilyushin 18D (188011201)

RA-74268, Tyumen Airlines, Russia


(*105) to Intal Air, Kyrgyzstan (EX-201)

Ilyushin 18D (184007405)

T9-ABB, Bio Air Company, Bosnia


(*106) to Anikay AL, Kyrgyzstan (EX-405)

Ilyushin 18V (185008601)

EL-ALD, Santa Cruz, Liberia


(*107) to Anikay AL, Kyrgyzstan (EX-601)

Ilyushin 18V (183005905)

LZ-BFU, BF Cargo, Bulgaria


(*108) to Intal Air, Kyrgyzstan (EX-75427)

Ilyushin 18D (187009702)

RA-75442, Ramaer, Sharjah


(*109) became 9Q-CAA, Cie Africaine Avn

Ilyushin 18D (187010004)

ST-APZ, Jubba AW, Somalia


to Intal Air, Kyrgyzstan (EX-75449)

Ilyushin 18D (187010403)

RA-75466, Ramaer, Sharjah

EX-75466 (*)

(*110) to Botir-Avia, Kyrgyzstan(EX-75427)

Ilyushin 18V (182004904)

EL-ALW, Santa Cruz, Liberia (*145)


(*111) crash 15/09/2002 Neghazi, Angola

Ilyushin 18D (186008905)

LZ-ZAH, Phoenix Air, Bulgaria (*112)


(*113) to Intal Air, Kyrgyzstan (EX-75905)

Yakovlev 40 (9640152)

UN-88248, Kyzyl Orda, Kazakhstan



Yakovlev 40 (9841659)

RA-87228, Ramaer, Sharjah


(*114) became ST-ARK, Private User Sudan

Yakovlev 40 (9230423)

RA-87801, Yeniseisky Mer., Russia


Stored Ostafyevo

Boeing 767 (23280)

N6373P, Wells Fargo Bank, USA


(*115) became N251MY, MAXjetAW, USA

Boeing 737 (23626)

EC-JJV, Futura Int’l Airways

A6-PHC ()


Boeing 737 (21960)

N71PW, Global Avn Services, USA

EX-006/EX-214 []

became E3-NAS, NasAir, Eritrea

Boeing 737 (22088)

HP-1288CMP, Copa AL, Panama


(*117) leased to Itek Air, Kyrgyzstan

Boeing 737 (21645)

HP-1297CMP, Copa AL, Panama

EX-012/A6-PHF ()


Boeing 737 (21819)

C-GKPW, Air Canada


(*119) became AP-BHU, Aero Asia (*120)

Boeing 737 (23444)

UN-B3703, Air Kazakhstan

EX-027/A6-PHA ()


Boeing 737 (22075)

N238TA, ASERCA, Venezuela


(*123) crash 03/02/2005 near Kabul

Boeing 737 (21509)

N978UA, United Airlines, USA


became AP-BHC, Shaheen Air, Pakistan

Boeing 737 (22074)

N127GU, Aviateca Guatemala

EX-047 (*124)

became YA-GAC, Kam Air, Afghanistan

Boeing 737 (22395)

N501NG, TACA Int’l, El Salvador

EX-048/A6-PHD ()


Boeing 737 (21275)

HZ-AGH, Saudi Arabian AL

EX-079 ()


Boeing 737 (21276)

HZ-AGI, Saudi Arabian AL

EX-080/EX-311 []

(*128) to Itek Air, Kyrgyzstan (EX-311)

Boeing 737 (20450)

PK-JHA, Sempati Air, Indonesia

EX-450 (*129)

became XU-U4B, PMT Air, Cambodia

Boeing 737 (20451)

PK-JHD, Sempati Air, Indonesia


became YI-AOF, Iraqi Airways (*130)

Boeing 737 (22632)

N75PW, Global Avn Services, USA

EX-632/EX-212 []()


Antonov 12BP (8346006)

LZ-BRA (*), Bright Avn, Bulgaria


(*131) to Click AW, Kyrgyzstan (EX-031)







GATS, Gulf Aviation Technology & Services, Russia (1994-2005)




Operating base: Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, formerly Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Type & msn


GATS registration




Ilyushin 76TD (1023411368)

RA-76436, Trans-Charter, Moscow

3C-KKE (*) (*132)

to Experts Air Cargo, UAE (UR-BXS)

Ilyushin 76TD (1023411384)

RA-76411, Trans-Charter, Moscow

3C-KKF (*) (*133)

to Experts Air Cargo, UAE (UR-BXR)

Ilyushin 76TD (1023410360)

RA-76832, Trans-Charter, Moscow

3C-KKG (*134)

to Experts Air Cargo, UAE (UR-BXQ)

Antonov 124 (19530502843)

New from factory


to Aviant-Kiev (UR-ZYD *) (*135)

 N B: All 3 GATS IL-76’s were successively Nicaragua-registered (YN-CEX, CEV & CEW, respectively), Equ.Guinea-registered (3C-KKE,KKF & KKG) and

 Kyrgyzstan-registered (EX-436, 411 & 832) (*136, *137, *138), preceding the current Experts AC registrations







Santa Cruz Imperial, Liberia  ()  (since 2002 Dolphin Air)





Operating base: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates





Type & msn


St Cruz registration




Boeing 707 (20718)

B-2410/513L, China Southwest AL


(*139) stored Al Ain, UAE

Boeing 737 (21926)

N720A, private user, USA

A6-ZYA ()


Boeing 737 (21928)

N715A, private user, USA


(*141) became C-GAIG, Air Inuit, Canada

Boeing 737 (22679)

N719A, private user, USA

A6-ZYC ()


Airbus 300 (666)

TF-ELB, Air Atlanta Icelandic


became ST-ATB, Sudan AW (*143)

Ilyushin 18V (182004804)

3D-ALQ, AirCess, Liberia

EL-ADY (*144)

became EX-7504, KAS Air, ER-ICM, Renan

Ilyushin 18V (183006205)

EL-AHO, AirCess, Liberia





Ilyushin 18V (185008601)

LZ-BEW, Balkan, Bulgaria


became EX-601, Phoenix Aviation (*107)

Ilyushin 18V (182004904)

RA-76825, SPAir, Russia


(*145) to Phoenix Avn (EX-76825) (*111)

Ilyushin 18V (185008603)

LZ-BEZ, Balkan, Bulgaria

EL-ARK (*78)

became UN-75002 (*80), Irbis Air Co [¨]

Antonov 12V (347305)

RA-12991, Magadanaerogruz, Russia


(*146) Lotus AW, Equ. Guinea (3C-ZZD)

Antonov 12BP (402108)

RA-12116, Special Cargo, Moscow


(*147) derelict Sharjah

Antonov 12V (8345510)

RA-12959, Special Cargo, Moscow


became LZ-BRC (*), Bright Avn, Bulgaria

Antonov 12BP (9346801)

YA-PAA, Pamir Air, Afghanistan


to Afghan Air Force

Antonov 12BP (8346202)

YA-PAB, Pamir Air, Afghanistan


(*85) stored Sharjah


Antonov 12BP (4342404)

RA-11760, Aviacompania Pilot


became 3C-QQC, Anton Air, Lesotho

Antonov 12BP (3341206)

RA-11831, Amuraviatrans, Russia





Antonov 12BP (402112)

3D-ALB, Southern Cross, Swaziland


stored ?



Antonov 12 BP (3340909)

RA-11890, Amuraviatrans, Russia


(*148) crash 02/02/99, Luanda, Angola

Antonov 26 (87307104)

RA-26523, Ural Airlines, Russia





Antonov 26 (1805)

ST-ALU, private user, Sudan





Antonov 26B (47313906)

RA-26172, Special Cargo, Moscow


crash 04/02/99, Luzamba, Angola

Antonov 24V (87304504)

UR-49258, Donbass AL, Ukraine


became YA-DAG, Ariana Afghan Airlines

 ()  Acquired by Flying Dolphin, Sharjah, UAE, and renamed Dolphin Air

 [¨]  Irbis Air Co became Victor Bout’s Kazakhstan company when he took refuge in Moscow







Trans Aviation Global Group, Kazakhstan (2004-2006)





Operating base: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates





Type & msn


Tr. Avn registration




Boeing 727 (22045)

N532DA, Delta Airlines, USA


(*149) to Mega AL, Kazakhstan (UN-B2701)

Boeing 727 (21861)

N8892Z, Custom Air Transport


(*150) to Mega AL, Kazakhstan (UN-B2702)

Boeing 727 (22046)

N533DA, Delta Airlines, USA


To Mega AL, Kazakhstan (*151)







British Gulf International Airlines, Kyrgyzstan





Operating base: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates





Type & msn


BGIA registration




Antonov 12BP (2340602)


EX-045/S9-SAV ()


Antonov 12TB (401901)

S9-CDB, British Gulf IA, Sao Tome

EX-160/S9-SAJ ()


Antonov 12BP (5343305)

S9-BOT, British Gulf IA, Sao Tome

EX-161/S9-SAP ()


Antonov 12BP (3341408)

S9-CAQ, British Gulf IA, Sao Tome

EX-162/S9-SAM ()


Antonov 12V (1347704)

S9-BOS, British Gulf IA, Sao Tome

EX-163 ()


Antonov 12V (5343703)

RA-11002, Aeroflot Russian Int AL

EX-164 ()


 N B: British Gulf Int’l AL, Kyrgyzstan, was formed as a subsidiary of a company of the same name, headquartered in Sao Tome & Principe, both companies

 using same office and staff in Sharjah (UAE).







Aerocom, Moldova (1998-2004) [1]





Operating base: Chisinau, Moldova





Jet Line International, Moldova (2002-2007) [2]





Operating base: Chisinau, Moldova





Type & msn






Ilyushin 76TD (43454615)

CU-C1419, Cubana, Cuba

ER-IBE (*)[1+2] (*158)

became D2-FCO, Gira Aeronautica, Angola

Ilyushin 76T (73410300)

HA-TCI (*), HUK AL (*159)

ER-IBF (*) [2]

(*160) stored

Ilyushin 76T (93418548)

RA-76492, Vladivostok Avia

ER-IBG [2]

(*161) to Tiramavia, Moldova (ER-IBG)

Ilyushin 76T (93418556)

RA-76516, Atruvera Air

ER-IBP [2]

(*162) to AL Transport, Moldova (ER-IBP)

Ilyushin 76T (3423699)

RA-76521, Ilavia AL

ER-IBV (*) [2]

(*163) stored

Tupolev 154B (546)

UR-85546, Tavra Aviakopania

ER-TAI [1]

(*164) stored at Sharjah

Antonov 12BP (6343707)

UR-PWH, Icar AL, Ukraine

ER-ACI (*)[1+2]

(*165) to Aeronord, Moldova (ER-ACI) (*)

Antonov 12TA (2340604)


ER-ACK [1]

became D2-FBV, Savanair, Angola

Antonov 12BP (3341108)

D2-FBS, Air Cassai, Angola

ER-ACP [1]

became 9XR-MK, Vega Avia, Rwanda

Antonov 12BP (2340503)

D2-FCU, National Commuter AL

ER-ADE [1]

derelict Jayapura, Indonesia

Antonov 12BP (402410)

LZ-VEE (*), Vega AL (*166)

ER-ADQ [2]

(*167) stored

Antonov 12BP (2340605)

CCCP-11382, Aeroflot

ER-ADT [1]

(*168) crash 16/10/2001 Solomon Islands

Antonov 12TB (1347907)

LZ-BRW (*), Bright Avn (*169)

ER-AXA [1]

(*170) to Private User, Cambodia

Antonov 12BK (7345201)

New (?)

ER-AXE [1]

to United Nations (ER-AXE) (*171)

Antonov 12BK (9346904)

LZ-SFT, Air Sofia, Bulgaria

ER-AXY (*)[1+2]

(*172) to Aeronord (ER-AXY) (*)

Antonov 12BK (8346106)

ER-AXZ (*), Airline Transport Inc

ER-AXZ (*) [2] (*173)

became UR-CAK, Meridian Avn, Ukraine

Antonov 26B (17310905)

RA-26050, UTAir-Express

ER-AFE [1+2]


Antonov 26 (67303901)

UR-26505, State Flight Academy

ER-AFH [1]

(*174) impounded for drug running, Belize

Antonov 26B (17311705)

RA-26082, Kurskavia

ER-AFL [1+2]


Antonov 26B (27312602)

RA-26093, Aviastar

ER-AFN [1+2] (*175)

became HA-TCW (*), Budapest Aircraft Svc

Antonov 26B (27312503)

UR-26124, Air Urga

ER-AFQ [1+2]

(*176) stored Fujairah

Antonov 26B (27312603)

RA-26125, Tula Air Enterprise

ER-AFU [1]

to Air Bridge Group, Moldova (ER-AFU)

Antonov 26 (87307408)

RA-26645, Aeroflot

ER-AWN [1]

became 9Q-CML, Co-Za AW (J-P. Bemba)

Antonov 26 (7309510)

UR-KRB, Kroonk AL, Ukraine

ER-AZF (*) [2] (*177)

became HA-TCX (*),Budapest Aircraft Svc

Antonov 26 (97308205)

UR-26670, Antonov Design Bureau

ER-AZR [2] (*178)

became HA-TCY (*),Budapest Aircraft Svc

Antonov 26B (97309005)

UR-26689, Air Kharkov

ER-AZT [1]

crash 05/09/2005 Isiro, D.R.Congo





Airline Transport Incorporation (2001-2005)



Operating base: Chisinau, Moldova



Type & msn




Ilyushin 76TD (63471147)

CCCP-76703, Aeroflot


became S9-DBR, Private User, Sao Tomé

Ilyushin 76T (73411338)

RA-76507, Tyumen AL

ER-IBD (*179)

to Jet Stream, Moldova (ER-IBD) stored

Ilyushin 76T (73411331)

RA-76505, Abakan Avia

ER-IBH (*180)

to Tiramavia, Moldova (ER-IBH) stored

Ilyushin 76TD (53460790)

RA-76479, Aeroflot

ER-IBK (*)

(*181) leased to Tiramavia, Moldova

Ilyushin 76TD (53463908)

RA-76659, Atruvera Air

ER-IBL (*182)

became EX-075, Tenir AL, Kyrgyzstan

Ilyushin 76TD (63466981)

RA-76672, Atruvera Air

ER-IBM (*)

(*183) crash 30/12/04 Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Ilyushin 76TD (33448390)