Bout Makes Plea to Kremlin for Help in Getting Released

APBout
Russian citizen Viktor Bout, accused of being one of the world's top black-market arms dealers, pleaded with the Kremlin to help secure his release in a televised statement from a Thai prison.

Bout, who has been dubbed "The Merchant of Death," was arrested on March 6 at a luxury hotel in Bangkok after a U.S.-led sting operation. He was charged with conspiracy for allegedly trying to smuggle missiles and rocket launchers to a rebel group in Colombia that is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Thai police said Wednesday that they would seek court approval to extradite Bout to the United States. They said Bout would remain in custody pending the extradition hearings, which could take 60 days.

Speaking from behind bars in a statement broadcast by Russia Today television on Wednesday, Bout rejected what he called "fabricated American accusations" and pleaded with Russian authorities to help secure his release.

"I, Viktor Bout, appeal to the government of the Russian Federation as a citizen. I'm asking you to take measures to free me, because I have been jailed and held under guard under fabricated accusations," Bout told Russia Today.

Bout is not charged with any crimes in Russia. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said Thursday that Russia would "follow the course of the investigation being conducted by Thailand's law enforcement authorities, including from the perspective of the grounds for accusations against Bout," Itar-Tass reported.

Bout, 41, faces several counts in the United States of "conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization" for allegedly arranging to sell and transport weapons, including portable surface-to-air missiles, to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Regarded as one of the world's most wanted arms traffickers, Bout's alleged list of customers since the early 1990s includes African dictators and warlords, including former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and both sides of the civil war in Angola. In the process, he has been accused of breaking several UN arms embargoes.