Russian arms dealer Thai court hearings to continue in November
18:26 | 10/ 10/ 2008
MOSCOW, October 10 (RIA Novosti) - A Thai court will hold its next hearings in the trial of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, accused of conspiracy to sell arms to Colombian left-wing rebels, on November 4-8, a Russian lawyer said on Friday.
Bout, 41, was arrested in March in Bangkok during a joint police operation led by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The second hearing in his case was held on Friday.
"The next hearings have been scheduled for November 4 and 8," Bout's Russian lawyer, Yan Dasgupta said, adding that the afternoon proceedings had not brought any concrete results.
The defense cross-examined on Friday a witness from Thailand's interior ministry and attempted to prove that Bout was innocent of the charges and his extradition to the U.S. would be illegal.
Western law enforcement agencies consider Bout to be "the most prominent foreign businessman" involved in trafficking arms to UN-embargoed destinations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.
UN reports say Bout set up a network of more than 50 cargo aircraft around the world to facilitate his arms shipments, earning the nickname "merchant of death."
DEA prosecutors accuse Bout of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist group listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Thailand received in early May a formal request from Washington to extradite Bout to the United States, where he has been indicted on four charges: conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.
The former officer in the Russian army faces a life sentence if tried in a U.S. court, while Thai authorities earlier announced that they would not press charges against Bout.
In an interview published Friday in Kommersant, a Russian business daily, Bout said Washington fabricated charges against him after he had refused to work as an informant.
"I was approached by some recruiters, especially in South Africa, who said it would be good if I shared with them information about the situation in one country or another and offered me a lot of incentives. But I was not interested and I refused," Kommersant quoted him as saying.
"They attempted to recruit me because we worked with Libyans and ... some other countries that the Americans had an interest in. And after I refused, the UN started a sham investigation," he added.
Bout admitted that his company transported weaponry around the world as part of its business operations, but said the shipments were legal.
"Everyone is attempting to picture me as an 'arms baron' or a 'merchant of death' ... but all shipment companies deliver weaponry, which is considered a legal cargo if declared properly," he said.
Bout's planes earlier flew Federal Express shipments for the U.S. Air Force in and out of Baghdad.