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Monday, March 16, 2009

'Merchant of death' denies arming terror

Sun, 15 Mar 2009 22:19:15 GMT | PressTV

Viktor Bout in a Bangkok prison cell.
Victor Bout, accused of being one of the world's leading arms dealers, denies supplying weapons to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Bout, a 42-year-old Russian, was arrested last March in Bangkok by American agents while allegedly discussing the sale of shoulder-launched missiles with US agents camouflaged as Colombian rebels from FARC.

He is currently detained in a maximum-security prison in Bangkok awaiting a final court hearing scheduled for next week. The United States wants him extradited to the US after the final hearings.

Bout said that the allegations against him were 'lies'. "I never especially never had any deal with al-Qaeda", he told the Observer in an interview published on Sunday.

Asked if it was possible that planes owned by him carried weapons without his knowledge, he said, "I could not exclude that." However, he said, his planes did ship arms to Afghanistan in 1996 for the government during the civil war it fought against the Taliban.

In the 1990s, Bout was accused of illegally smuggling arms to numerous African regimes and warlords. Even the United Nations has accused him of arming the alleged war criminal Charles Taylor in Liberia, as well as rebels in Sierra Leone and the Congo.

Bout, who has been nicknamed 'the merchant of death' and 'the embargo buster', says he is happy to admit associating with warlords, but denies all accusations of wrongdoing.

He has admitted helping his 'very close friend' Jean-Pierre Bemba, a warlord who became the vice-president of Congo, and who is now in the Hague awaiting trial for orchestrating rape, mass murder and child soldiering.

Bout's supposed client list reads like a Who's Who of the world's nastiest warlords but also includes Americans, Britons, Frenchmen and Russians.

He denied earlier reports that he shipped armored cars into Iraq for Britain. He also denied that his activities were linked to Russian intelligence but when asked if he worked for the Russian state, he said, "Sometimes, yeah. We did the flights."

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