Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 18:56 UK

US charges Russian 'arms dealer'

Viktor Bout in a Bangkok criminal court detention centre - 9/4/2008
Mr Bout denies he is an arms dealer and says he runs a legitimate business

The US has charged an alleged Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, with four counts of terrorism, saying he tried to sell weapons to Colombia's Farc rebels.

He was arrested in Thailand in March in an operation by US agents posing as Colombian rebels buying weapons.

The US wants to extradite Mr Bout, who has been called the world's biggest illegal arms dealer.

Mr Bout's lawyer says his client is innocent and that he runs a legitimate air transport and logistics business.

Thai authorities have been holding Mr Bout in a maximum-security prison outside Bangkok while courts decide whether to extradite him to the US.

Mr Bout has been labelled the "Merchant of Death" for allegedly supplying weapons to some of the world's worst conflicts.

The US indictment against Mr Bout charges him with conspiring to sell millions of dollars of weapons to the Farc, conspiracy to kill US nationals, conspiracy to kill US military officers, and conspiracy to acquire and use surface-to-air missiles, AFP news agency reported.

"Viktor Bout has long been considered by the international community as one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers," said US attorney Michael Garcia in New York, announcing the indictment.

'Merchant of Death'

Mr Bout was arrested 6 March in Bangkok after a months-long operation by Thai police and US agents who were posing as Colombian rebels looking to buy arms.

Mr Bout, 41, is said to have graduated from Moscow's military institute in the early 1990s and was a major in the Soviet KGB.

According to a 2007 book about him - entitled Merchant of Death - Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible - he set up a network of companies using redundant Soviet military planes.

A 2005 report by the human rights group, Amnesty International, said Mr Bout was "the most prominent foreign businessman" selling arms to UN-embargoed nations from countries such as Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

He has also been accused of supplying weapons to supporters of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Taleban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda during the 1990s.

The US placed sanctions on Mr Bout in 2006, seizing his fleet of cargo planes and freezing many of his assets.

Arms suspect's arrest 'unlawful'
17 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Bail denied for arms suspect Bout
11 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Arms suspect faces charges in US
07 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Thailand holds 'top arms dealer'
06 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Viktor Bout
06 Mar 08 |  Europe

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