Russian 'gunrunner' denied bail in Thailand
Mikhail Belozersky, a business partner of Viktor Bout, was arrested with the alleged gunrunner in Thailand. In a frank and shocking interview with Russia Today, he described his arrest and brief detention.
He says that while they were in custody he was denied a translator and access to a phone. “They didn’t even contact our embassy,” he said.
According to Belozersky what later happened ‘was simply torture’.
“I spent five hours with my hands cuffed behind my back,” he said.
The businessman said his guards refused to release his hands so he could use the toilet.
“And all this time I was given no explanation about what was happening to me or why I was in custody,” he said.
Before he was released, without explanation, Belozersky said he was quizzed by five Americans in civilian clothes.
“An American man told me I should immediately leave Thailand, otherwise I’d be in trouble,” he said.
“I was warned that if I told this story to anyone, something really bad could happen to me – even a fatal accident,” Bout’s business partner added.
Under Thai law Bout could be held for up to 84 days without being formally charged.
The 41-year-old was arrested in the Thai capital on Thursday as a result of a sting operation by Thai police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Bout is suspected of smuggling weapons to Colombian rebels.
Washington accuses him of trying to sell surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry to Colombian rebels and have requested his extradition.
If found guilty, Bout faces up to 10 years in Thai prison, or 15 years if convicted in the U.S.
Bout will be held in Klong Prem central prison for the next 12 days until it’s decided whether he’ll be prosecuted on Thai soil or extradited to the U.S.
He says that since he was detained in Thailand, he wants to be charged and tried there. At the same time, Bout denies any involvement in any criminal activities and says he’s innocent.
Bout’s arrest comes days after the Colombian government launched a military raid into Ecuador, killing a FARC leader and raising tensions in the region.
For Bout’s brother Sergey this is no coincidence. He said the same thing happened before the war in Afghanistan, before the war in Yugoslavia, and before the campaign in Iraq. He says his brother is a victim of a political game.
“Now we are seeing another conflict simmering on in Colombia. My brother is like a scarecrow which is used to scare people off and to divert media attention from far more serious things,” Sergey Bout thinks.
“He was apprehended in the final stages of arranging the sale of millions of dollars' worth of high-powered weapons to people he believed to represent a known terrorist organisation, the FARC”, said Michael J. Garcia, U.S. Attorney of Southern District of New York.
Back in the 1990s Bout used to run an aviation business delivering cargo across the globe. U.S. authorities now accuse him of running weapons to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and African dictators and warlords. These allegations have been dogging him for almost a decade, yet he’s never been tried or convicted.
“They have been accusing me since 1998 of all kinds of illegal arms trade in Africa, but since then even with all the powers of the American administration, CIA, FBI, satellites and other means like that they have not even able to come out with definite proof,” Viktor Bout said in November 2006.
Meanwhile, Bout’s attorney Viktor Burobin said he’ll petition for his return to Russia.
“We think Russia is a civilised and strong state today, so it has to review the actions of any Russian citizen on our own territory and we will insist on returning Viktor Bout to Russia,” he said.
Over the past few years Viktor Bout has been living in Russia and working in the building business.
In an interview with Russia Today in 2006, Viktor Bout said he was tired of being called ‘the lord of war’ or ‘the merchant of death’. He says he wants to be treated like any other law-abiding businessman.
His arrest in Thailand may finally give him a chance to clear his reputation.
Brian Wood from Amnesty International says there may be political reasons for the timing of Bout's arrest.
He believes there is evidence cargo planes owned by Bout were involved in delivering cargo to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Why was this operation carried out now?, Why was it not carried out a few years ago? There are allegations made that, for example, cargo planes belonging to the fleet of companies controlled by Mr Bout have been used by the Pentagonand by the U.S. Defense Department, for example, to deliver cargoes to Iraq.
I mean the trouble is that in the air cargo industry, the part of which would do military logistics, there is a lot of subcontracting, leasing, different companies do certain favours for each other and so on. And therefore it is possible that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. So it is possible that the U.S. State Department or the Treasury Department that issued the freezing of Mr Bout’s assets, were doing the one thing, and the Pentagon was doing something else,” Brian Wood said.
Bout is believed to have been the inspiration for Nicholas Cage's arms-smuggling anti-hero in the 2005 film ‘Lord of War’. In real life, Viktor Bout is dashing, overweight and not appreciative of his Hollywood portrayal.
“I feel sorry for Nicolas Cage who starred as Orlov, it’s very silly. This is a bad movie,” Viktor Bout said to RT on Spotlight in November 2006.
The detention of Viktor Bout is dramatic enough to inspire a sequel to the 2005 movie.