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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Viktor Bout aka Lord of War, world's most notorious arms dealer

Thai police arrested perhaps the world's most notorious arms dealer, Viktor Bout, on Thursday after a sting operation in which US agents posed as Colombian rebels seeking an arsenal of modern weapons.
The former Russian air force pilot now faces extradition to the United States, where New York prosecutors have formally charged him and an associate with conspiring to sell millions of dollars in arms to terrorists.
The 40-year-old suspect -- who famously served as a model for actor Nicholas Cage's arms smuggling anti-hero in the Hollywood movie "Lord of War" -- was arrested at a luxury hotel in the Thai capital Bangkok, police said.Reports have linked him to civil wars in Africa and he is said to have helped arm Afghanistan's Taliban militia, Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, Marxist rebels in South America and Liberian warlord Charles Taylor.One British minister dubbed the Russian the "Merchant of Death" and the pressure group Amnesty International has alleged that at one time he operated a fleet of more than 50 planes ferrying weapons shipments around Africa.In Washington, officials said Bout had been arrested after sources working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mounted a sting operation by posing as Colombian guerrillas seeking to buy weapons.According to a previously sealed complaint released by New York prosecutors, the DEA sources set up several meetings with Bout's associate Andrew Smulian in Romania, Denmark and the Dutch West Indies to discuss a deal.During the meetings, agents recorded telephone calls to Bout in which he discussed shipping an arsenal of deadly weapons, including helicopters, armour-piercing rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.
"We were able to infiltrate his criminal organisation, to gain access to some of his key associates," said a DEA official who asked not to be named."These undercover sources were acting as high level representatives of the FARC, attempting to obtain arms," he explained, referring to the rebels of the illegal Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).Major General Pongpat Chayaphan of the Thai police told AFP in Bangkok that Bout was arrested after a Thai court issued a warrant against him for attempted mass murder."He is now in the custody of the Crime Suppression Division. We will take legal action against him here, before deporting him to face trial in another country, likely the US," he said."We have followed him for several months. He just came back to Thailand today," Pongpat said, adding that more details would be given on Friday.Police brought Bout, an overweight figure with cropped dark hair, a moustache and a bright orange polo shirt, into their headquarters in handcuffs.Following the arrest, US prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said they would seek Bout's extradition to face charges "for conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization".Bout's native Russia will also seek Bout's extradition, according to an official cited by the Ria-Novosti news agency, while Belgium has asked the international police agency Interpol to issue a global alert for him.In Liberia, a former officer with ousted dictator Taylor's intelligence service on Thursday described Bout as a "timber trader who paid his bills with weapons" destined for the warlord's notoriously brutal army.
Between 1998 and 2001, when Liberia was in the grip of civil war and subject to a United Nations arms embargo, Bout's boats arrived at the Liberian port of Buchanan loaded with weapons and left carrying wood, he said.A former Soviet air force officer who was born in 1967, Bout was dubbed the "Merchant of Death" by former British government minister Peter Hain due to his involvement in supplying arms to Liberia and Angola.
In March last year, US Treasury Department imposed sanctions against seven companies accused of fueling the war in Democratic Republic of Congo at the start of the decade. Three of the companies were linked to Bout.



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