|Intl. Notebook||Dec 22 2008|
Today in Thailand, Viktor Bout took the stand in his trial to fight extradition to the United States for conspiring to provide weaponry to Colombian FARC rebels. Bout, who is a Russian national, allegedly made an arms deal with men he thought were potential customers, but who were in reality American undercover agents. If Thai authorities decide to turn Bout over, he faces charges in America of conspiring to kill U.S. officers, employees and citizens, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.
Bout said in court, when asked his profession, that he is a businessman involved in aviation and construction. However U.S. authorities, as well as the United Nations, claim he is an international arms dealer known as The Merchant of Death who has provided weaponry to warlords and dictators in Afghanistan and Africa, and is so well known that he was the subject of a book, and provided inspiration for Nicholas Cage’s character in the film Lord of War.
Among Bout’s alleged exploits are the hijacking of 200,000 assault rifles en route from Bosnia to Iraq, and the breaking of an arms embargo to Liberia. Bout said he traveled to Bangkok to relax and to meet with a Thai businessman about an airplane deal, and claimed he was arrested because he is a pawn in an American plot. He denied any wrongdoing, saying, “I did not commit any terrorist acts. The US is trying to use this to cover up its internal problems and prevent good relations between Thailand and Russia.” Bout faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.