Monday, July 28, 2008

British businessman to testify against 'merchant of death'

By David Connett
Sunday, 27 July 2008

A British businessman, Andrew Smulian, is expected to give evidence against one of the world's most notorious arms dealers, Viktor Bout. Mr Bout, born in the former Soviet Union and known as the "merchant of death", is awaiting extradition proceedings from Thailand to the US, where he faces charges of aiding a terrorist organisation. Mr Smulian, Mr Bout's British-born long-term associate, is believed to have provided evidence for the prosecution.

Mr Bout is alleged to be one of the world's most wanted arms traffickers. He was reputed to be the model for the character of Yuri Orlov, the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie Lord of War. Mr Bout's list of alleged customers includes African dictators and warlords such as the former Liberian president Charles Taylor, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and both sides of the civil war in Angola.

While Mr Bout has been accused of breaking UN arms embargoes – using his own airline to fly weapons all over the world – he has also provided services to Western governments, including Britain's Ministry of Defence.

Mr Smulian, 46, a military-trained pilot, was arrested in Bangkok with Mr Bout in a sting operation, in which US agents posed as Colombian rebels trying to buy millions of dollars worth of weapons.

Mr Smulian is believed to have a negotiated a plea bargain. Both men currently face charges that could result in 15 years in prison.

The US trial has the potential to embarrass a number of Western countries, including Britain. Critics claim Mr Bout's activities have continued unchecked because of the implicit involvement of Western intelligence agencies.

In March 2005, according to official Civil Aviation Authority records, Britain's Ministry of Defence hired Mr Bout's Trans Avia and Jet Line International to transport armoured vehicles and a small number of British troops from RAF Brize Norton and RAF Lyneham to Kosovo.

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