The Cold War has broken out again, and
Bout and his legal representatives have vigorously denied the charges. Extradition hearings were due to begin last week but have been postponed until the end of the month. Depending on what happens next,
Bout has not agreed to see any Western journalist since his arrest, but he made an exception for this correspondent, who recently visited him in
"I am innocent," Bout insists. "I used to admire the Americans, I looked up to them. But today I despise the Americans, and so does the entire world. They think they can do whatever they want anywhere."
Bout was arrested in a sting operation initiated by the US Drug Enforcement Administration a few hours after he arrived in
The official extradition request dated April 30 from the US Department of Justice says the meeting in a conference room in a five-star Bangkok hotel was "recorded" and that "Bout indicated that he understood that CS-2 and CS-3 [confidential sources or US agents] wanted to buy the arms for the use by FARC against US forces in Colombia. Bout then stated that the
That contradicts Bout's version of events. "I thought they were interested in buying two transport aircraft," he says. "But then the agents started talking about surface-to-air missiles, and the room was raided, by the Americans."
Bout also denied that he was ever involved in illegal arms trafficking. "I used to run an air transport company. Perhaps there were guns on board, but I was only a transporter. If I was guilty of smuggling guns, then any taxi driver in
Yusill Scribner of the US Attorney-General's Office in
"Viktor Bout has been named since the mid-1990s in a slew of United Nations, individual government, and [non-governmental organisation] reports as an arms trafficker and major arms embargo buster. His aircraft have repeatedly shipped weapons to numerous conflicts in Central Asia and Africa, including UN-embargoed Angola,
Why would Bout come to
He says he was lured into the sting operation meeting by an associate, a Briton named Andrew Smulian, who was also arrested. Smulian, a few days after his arrest, appeared in
Bout presents himself as just an ordinary, conscientious businessman. During the interview he said his only businesses were an airport maintenance company and a farm in the Caucasus, where he rears goats to make cheese for restaurants in
An article in the
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 he went abroad and set up several air transport businesses, first in Belgium, then in South Africa and finally in the United Arab Emirates. He speaks at least five foreign languages, among them English, French and Portuguese. It is believed that the negotiations in
Bout is not the only alleged global arms dealer to be targeted by the
In September 2006 the Indonesian arms dealer Hadja Subandi and a group of Sri Lankan Tamil and Singaporean associates were arrested in a sting in
It has been clear since the early years of the decade that Western security services have been concerned over the proliferation of man-portable air defence systems, such as the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles Bout was allegedly trying to sell to FARC. The
"When you have al-Kassar last year and Viktor Bout this year caught in strikingly similar sting operations, a pattern clearly emerges," says Anthony Davis, a security analyst with Jane's Information Group. That pattern is precisely why the
"While Bout undoubtedly was a major arms trafficker with many resources at his disposal, he could not have conducted most of his business without the support and/or collusion of high-ranking government officials," Hogendoorn says. "This assistance may be provided in exchange for money, geopolitical interests, or both."
On October 26 last year a Spanish court authorised the extradition of Kassar, and The New York Times reported that he arrived in
But other deals with the former Soviet bloc countries are expected to be put back on the table by the Thai Government. In recent months there has been a move to acquire 96 BTR-3E1 Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers.
On March 17, less than two weeks after Bout was arrested,
The newspaper The Nation quoted Samak saying on March 19: "
The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta speculated in a commentary on May 19 that Bout's arrest might be an attempt to undermine improved relations between
That may or may not be the case, but Bout's extradition to the
Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and the author of Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of