Arms Dealer Insists on His Innocence

ReutersViktor Bout waiting in a detention cell at the Bangkok Criminal Court to be transferred back to prison on Saturday.
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Businessman Viktor Bout, accused of running guns to the Taliban and bloody conflicts across Africa, insists that he is innocent and wants to be freed from a Thai prison on bail, his lawyer said Monday.

Bout, 41, dubbed the "Merchant of Death," was arrested Thursday in Thailand after a U.S.-led sting operation. He was charged with conspiracy for trying to smuggle missiles and rocket launchers to rebels in Colombia.

"My client denies all charges against him and says he has done nothing wrong," said Bout's lawyer, Lak Nitiwatanavichan. The lawyer planned to submit a bail request "as soon as possible," saying he was waiting for a document to arrive from Moscow.

The United States is seeking Bout's extradition, but he is being held in Thailand, where officials are investigating whether he used the country as a base to negotiate a weapons deal with terrorists. Suspects can be held up to 84 days in Thailand without being formally charged.

If convicted, Bout could face 10 years in prison on the Thai charge, and 15 years in the United States.

The United States and UN officials have long identified Bout as a weapons smuggler whose alleged list of customers included former dictator Charles Taylor of Liberia, the Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now known as Congo, and both sides of the civil war in Angola.

Bout also reportedly supplied arms to warring parties in Afghanistan before the 2001 fall of the Taliban's Islamic regime.

To capture him, undercover agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posed as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, seeking to purchase millions of dollars in weapons.

A former Soviet Air Force officer, Bout purportedly built his contacts in the post-Soviet arms industry into a business dealing arms to combatants in conflicts around the world. He is generally believed to have been a model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War."

Thai prison authorities say they are keeping him under special security at Bangkok's Klongprem Prison.

"He was a soldier who knows how to use weapons and knows how to fight," said Wanchai Rutchanawong, director general of Thailand's Corrections Department.

"I have ordered special security measures," Wanchai said. "Well-trained men will be surveying him around the clock."

The Bangkok Criminal Court on Saturday authorized an initial 12-day detention for Bout, which can be extended up to 84 days without formal charges filed.