As far back as January this year, we were discussing a company called Natalco Airlines, registered in Sao Tome & Principe but really located almost anywhere else. Back then, it was possible for a source to put the Sao Tome CAA on the right track regarding an aeroplane, An-12 S9-BAN, serial no. 402111, that had somehow vanished. In fact it had been reregistered TN-AGQ and then broken up for spare parts in Pointe Noire, Congo.
Now, casually looking up something else today, I came upon one of Douglas Farah’s old reports, predating the Ranter and hence unread by me, about the al-Qa’ida diamonds connection with Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia. (You can read it here.) Interestingly, at the same time as the Al-Qa’ida diamond buyers led by Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani were at Taylor’s court (also the same period that Richard Chichakli’s San Air General Trading was receiving large sums of money from the Liberian shipping registry), an order was placed for arms by one Simon Yelnik, described as an Israeli citizen resident in Panama, to a “Russian arms dealer in Guatemala”. This order (for “our friends in Africa”) resulted in the procurement of an end-user certificate purporting to come from the Ivory Coast government, made out to “Natalco Holdings PLC” of Bulgaria.
Naturally, PLC is not a type of company that exists in Bulgarian company law. Very probably the weapons (which included RPGs, artillery rockets and portable SAMs) came from there, though, via the well-documented route through the KINTEX state arsenal and KAS Engineering, the Gibraltar-based front company used by the Viktor Bout system to get end-user certificates issued. It’s certainly an interesting coincidence, if nothing more, that exactly the same name should turn up in this context twice at the same point in time.
Natalco the airline had/has three Antonov 12s. One of them, strange to tell, is now at Astral Aviation of Nairobi, the firm that turned up in this post and is connected with Phoenix Aviation, GST Aero, Aerocom, Ali Kleilat and Asterias Commercial, not to mention some strangelet entity called “Aerospace Consortium” in Fujairah, UAE. To turn back, briefly, to Bulgaria, though, what about this 1999 HRW report for the UNHCR? (Link.) I’m beginning to think that I ought to read more documentation from before about 2000, when the name “Viktor Bout” became better known, as some of it may include stuff that no-one realised was significant at the time.
In this case, note well the descriptions of deliveries of arms to both sides in Angola and to the Hutu in Rwanda in 1994-1996, coming in cargo aircraft registered in “Ghana, Russia, the Ukraine and other Warsaw Pact countries”. I strongly suspect Ghana here means either Johnsons Air, First International Air, or both. If the first, this is a very interesting link indeed. References to deliveries to Yemen in 1994 appear to originate from the Carlton TV report which included an interview with an anonymous pilot who may have been Chris Barrett-Jolley, describing the flights organised by the “old” Phoenix Aviation. If the Bout system was involved in arming the Hutu and the Angolan government as well as UNITA, it would argue strongly for a connection with the French arms dealer Pierre Falcone, a fugitive last heard of in Phoenix, Arizona offering large sums of money to the Republican Party, and the complex of scandal around Elf-Aquitaine, Mitterrand’s Africa Cell, and hard-right former French interior minister Charles Pasqua.
Which would be a laugh, no? Unfortunately, although the footnotes include sightings of “Soviet-era cargo planes” and even DC3s, no-one involved seems to have thought to record the registration letters, titles if any, etc. As I said, they didn’t realise it was significant.
Update: Doug Farah informs me that another Natalco deal involved importing helicopters from Bulgaria and Russia to Guinea ostensibly for “repairs” but really, of course, for sale to Charles Taylor.