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17 Mar, 2009 11:54

'Merchant of Death' claims lack of evidence

The alleged gunrunner Viktor Bout has been back in court in Thailand for an extradition hearing.

Washington wants the Russian businessman to face charges in the US of selling arms to terrorist organisations worldwide.

But from behind bars, and after a year in custody, Bout said no evidence has yet been produced.

'Merchant of death', 'embargo buster', 'McDonald’s of weapons export' are just some of the labels given to Viktor Bout by the media – and Hollywood.

Many describe the 2005 movie 'Lord Of War' as one of Nicolas Cage's best roles. Charismatic and dangerous, he plays Yuri Orlov, a Russian immigrant who sells weapons.

Viktor Bout – a Russian businessman – is believed to be the inspiration behind Orlov’s character, but he claims he has never stroked an AK gun and is not a fan of the film.

“I feel very sorry for Nicholas Cage who went to play this Orloff. It’s very silly. I feel pity as it’s a bad movie,” said Bout, in an exclusive interview with RT.

The Russian is accused of supplying most of the planet’s conflict zones with war hardware – from Africa and Asia to the Middle East and South America, including places which are under a United Nations weapons embargo.

Bout was detained exactly a year ago in Thailand while – according to US agents – allegedly negotiating a weapons deal for Latin American terrorists.

“He was apprehended in the final stages in arranging the sale of millions of dollars of high-powered weapons to people he believed to represent a known terrorist organisation – the FARC,” said US Attorney Michael J. Garcia.

It’s taken 12 months since Bout was detained for preliminary hearings in his case to start in the Thai court. Meanwhile, he denies all charges against him. In an exclusive interview with RT – from behind bars at Bangkok’s high security prison – Bout reiterated his innocence.

“All accusations against me are very general – they have no concrete evidence. What day, what time, what have I done? They only say ‘he’s bad, he’s dangerous’,” said Bout.

Viktor’s family shares the same view. His wife says that if he were what he is said to be, then she would not be fighting for her husband’s freedom.

Bout’s wealth is estimated by the media at USD $6 billion. Something Alla Bout denounces.

“I don’t even have enough money to pay for the lawyer. That’s about a thousand dollars every month,” she says.

Bout’s brother Sergey adds, “If he had 6 billion US dollars, he wouldn’t be selling airplanes in Thailand, would he? I think the whole story is made up.”

Thailand has brought no charges against Bout. And hearings in his case will mostly centre on one issue – whether or not he will be extradited to the US. But those close to the jailed businessman believe the case has a broader meaning.

“Bout is not an arms seller, Russia is the alleged arms dealer and he is just a tool,” said friend Richard Chichakli.

“This is a trial against Russia. The US cannot accuse Russia face to face. Bout will be put on the cross. Will he get a fair trial in the US? I don't think so,” he added.

In the final scenes of ‘Lord Of War’, Yuri Orlov is eventually captured by the authorities.

Viktor Bout is pessimistic that, should he be extradited to the US, he will most likely get a life sentence. He insists to the media that real life mustn’t be confused with fiction. But in this case, he would probably want to follow the fate of the character he is believed to have inspired.

Meanwhile, the Thai court will resume hearings on April 29. Tuesday’s session was dedicated to questioning Alla Bout, who detailed her husband's business trip and the circumstances of his arrest, which she said was illegal.

The court hearings in April could end the perils of Viktor Bout if the court decides that he should walk free, defence said.