Tue, Dec 23, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Thai court hears Bout’s testimony

AP , BANGKOK

The man dubbed the “Merchant of Death” for his alleged arms smuggling activities took the stand yesterday for the first time to fight extradition to the US and deny charges that he conspired to arm Colombian rebels.

Dressed in an orange prison uniform, Viktor Bout was shackled at the ankles but looked relaxed and spoke in mostly measured tones during his testimony at Bangkok’s Criminal Court.

The US is seeking the extradition of Bout, who was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation in which undercover US agents posed as Latin American rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“I never met or talked to anyone from FARC,” Bout told the court. “I didn’t do anything wrong in Thailand. I have never been to Colombia or the United States.”

The 41-year-old Russian, who has long denied any involvement in illicit activities, was purportedly the model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie Lord of War.

He was arrested in March at a Bangkok luxury hotel and subsequently indicted in the US on four terrorism-related charges.

Bout identified himself to the court as “a 41-year-old businessman.” He spoke in Russian, which was translated to Thai.

Asked to state his line of work, Bout replied: “I am in aviation and construction.”

Bout said he had traveled to Bangkok “to relax” and to meet “a Thai businessman.”

“I did not commit any terrorist acts,” Bout said.

“The US is trying to use this to cover up its internal problems and prevent good relations between Thailand and Russia,” said Bout, briefly raising his voice.

He did not elaborate.

At one point, Bout held up two fingers and flashed the victory sign to an acquaintance in the courtroom, where his mother and wife were present. After a two-hour testimony, the court adjourned for lunch and Bout smiled for cameras as police escorted him out.

Reports by UN agencies and several Western governments showed that Bout has delivered arms to dictators and warlords in Africa and Afghanistan, allegedly breaking several UN arms embargoes in the process.

His extradition hearing started in June but has been repeatedly delayed.

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