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Thais detain suspected arms dealer

The "Merchant of Death'' was enticed by a U.S. sting, officials say.

Associated Press
Published March 7, 2008


BANGKOK, Thailand - A Russian dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for allegedly supplying weapons to Africa's bloody conflicts over power and diamonds was arrested Thursday in Thailand on suspicion of conspiring to smuggle guns to Colombia's leftist rebels.

Viktor Bout, 41, was arrested at U.S. request in his hotel room in Bangkok, said police Lt. Gen. Pongpat Chayapan. Bout had eluded arrest for years and was finally seized after a four-month sting organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In New York, federal authorities unsealed a criminal complaint charging that Bout conspired to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including 100 surface-to-air missiles and armor-piercing rockets, that he thought were going to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The leftist group, which has been fighting Colombia's government for more than four decades, is listed by the United States as a terror group. Bout and an associate, Andrew Smulian, were charged with "conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization."

Smulian was still being sought Thursday.

Bout, who has never before been prosecuted for arms selling despite investigations in several countries, has always denied being involved in illicit deals.

The criminal complaint in New York said confidential informants directed by the DEA posed as FARC members while negotiating from November to February to buy arms from Bout.

In New York, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia would not say how much the weapons involved in the alleged deal were worth, but said the cost of just transporting them was set at $5-million. He said the weapons were to be parachuted to FARC fighters in Colombian territory.

The arrest "marks the end of the reign of one of the world's most wanted arms traffickers," Garcia said.

Resume of an arms dealer: Vikto Bout, 41

The former Soviet air force officer built contacts in the post-Soviet arms industry into a business dealing arms to combatants in conflicts around the world.

Early 1990s forward: Accused of funneling weapons into various civil wars in Africa.

1998-1999: Alleged to have air-dropped about 10,000 weapons to Colombian FARC guerrillas.

2000: Dubbed "a merchant of death" by Peter Hain, then Britain's Cabinet minister for African affairs.

2001: Accused of supplying arms to warring parties in Afghanistan before the fall of the Taliban regime.

2002: Belgium issues an international arrest warrant for Bout on charges of money-laundering and criminal conspiracy.

Post 2003: Involved in transporting U.S. military personnel and private U.S. contractors in Iraq, according to a book about Bout by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun.

2005: Nicolas Cage movie Lord of War depicts a character widely believed to be based on Bout.

2005: U.S. Treasury Department says: "Bout has the capacity to transport tanks, helicopters and weapons by the tons to virtually any point in the world. The arms he has sold or brokered has helped fuel conflicts and support U.N. sanctioned regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan."

2006: President Bush orders a freeze on Bout's assets and those of several associates and warlords in Congo. The order bars Americans from doing business with them.

2005: Report by Amnesty International alleges Bout was "the most prominent foreign businessman" involved in trafficking arms to U.N.-embargoed countries, including the transferring of "very large quantities of arms" from Ukraine to Uganda.

2008: Arrested in Thailand.

[Last modified March 7, 2008, 01:48:07]

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