‘Arms dealer sold weapons to Colombian rebels’

March 7th, 2008 - 11:58 am ICT by admin  

Washington, March 7 (DPA) Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, accused of fuelling conflicts around the world for years, has been charged in the US with conspiracy to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to Colombian rebels, the US Justice Department has said. Bout was arrested Wednesday in Thailand in what the Justice Department said was the result of close cooperation between US and Thai authorities. The United States said they would seek his extradition.

The charges stem from a sting operation in which Bout and an accomplice agreed to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is designated a terrorist organization in the United States.

Bout, 41, and Andrew Smulian offered to sell and deliver surface to air missiles, helicopters and armour piercing rocket launchers in a series of phone calls and emails to two US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) informants posing at FARC members.

Bout and Smulian were apparently led to Thailand by the informants to close the deal and were arrested by Thai police, the DEA said Thursday.

A former officer in the Soviet army, Bout has since become one of the most notorious arms dealers in the world, accused of selling weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan and to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Bout has denied the past charges.

Bout and Smulian face up to 15 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The charges were unsealed Thursday in a New York federal court.

US Attorney Michael J. Garcia in a press conference said the arrest ended “the reign of one of the world’s most wanted arms traffickers”.

“Viktor Bout and Andrew Smulian agreed to arm terrorists with high-powered weapons that have fuelled some of the most violent conflicts in recent memory,” Garcia said.

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