Monday, September 22, 2008

Merchant of Death heads into Thai court


APichart Weerawong / AP
Bout being led to court for an extradition hearing in Bangkok on Monday.

U.S. Agent Testifies Against Bout

23 September 2008By Ambika Ahuja / The Associated PressBANGKOK, Thailand — Accused arms trafficker Viktor Bout, whose extradition is being sought by the United States, is one of the world's biggest arms dealers, a U.S. agent testified Monday in a Thai court.

Bout has been indicted in the United States on four terrorism-related charges. He was arrested in Thailand on March 6. 

The 41-year-old Russian has been dubbed "The Merchant of Death" by the media, but he denies any involvement in illicit activities. He was purportedly the model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War."

According to reports by UN agencies and several Western governments, he has delivered arms to dictators and warlords in Africa and Afghanistan, allegedly breaking several UN arms embargoes in the process. 

"My client is innocent," defense attorney Preecha Prasertsak told reporters Monday after petitioning the Bangkok Criminal Court to dismiss the case on the grounds that Bout had been illegally detained. 

Bout was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation in which undercover U.S. agents posed as Latin American rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

The judges said the request for dismissal would be considered at a later date. 

Hearings in the extradition case have been postponed several times because Bout's legal counsel was unable to attend. After testimony by a Thai foreign ministry official and a police officer, the court heard from an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency that set up the operation that lured Bout from Russia to his arrest in the Thai capital. 

"Mr. Bout is one of the biggest arms dealers in the world," said DEA agent Robert Zachariasiewicz. 

He said Bout supplied "sophisticated and military-grade weapons, from rifles to missiles" to organizations fighting legitimate governments in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Africa and South America. Zachariasiewicz said Bout faces U.S. charges of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens, conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile. He could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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