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17 Feb, 2010 22:16

New charges against the "Merchant of Death"

Alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout faces new charges in the US, which could complicate US-Russian relations.

The new indictment alleges that Bout and an American colleague, Richard Chichakli, conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by attempting to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the United States. The IEEPA is an effort to prevent the flow of weapons and other supplies to rebel groups in Africa.

Viktor Bout’s wife says the new charges could be a sign of desperation by US prosecutors:

“The moment the US realized it was losing the case,” said Alla Bout, “it immediately pressed new charges, which are groundless and absurd. I don't understand what the next step could be, and how shameful this is for the Americans to put forward such accusations. The next step could be accusing Bout of illegally selling flying saucers.”

Bout is sometimes known as the “Merchant of Death,” and there is wide speculation about exploits as a weapons dealer. The film “Lord of War” is rumored to be based on his life.

Bout was captured in Thailand in March 2008 and charged with providing support to the Columbian rebel group known as FARC, which the US considers a foreign terrorist organization. In August 2009, a Thai court ruled in Bout’s favor and refused to extradite him to the United States. However, Bout has remained in Thai custody as the US has pursued charges against him that will stick. In the current indictment, Bout and Chichakli are charged with money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and six separate counts of wire fraud.

“Viktor Bout is the CIA’s worst nightmare. He knows way too much,” said RT contributor Wayne Madsen. “He flew for the Taliban in Afghanistan; he flew for the UN in Africa during the Clinton administration; he was aiding Charles Taylor in Liberia. Viktor Bout knows everything and the US is trying to get him in the US federal prison system so he never writes his memoirs – which could be very damaging for the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Continued attempts by the US to prosecute Bout, a Russian citizen, could damage slowly improving US-Russian relations.

“This is going to throw another monkey wrench into US-Russian relations,” said Madsen, “but in this situation, it’s the US that is going to be involved in the cover-up.”

Evgeny Belenky, the chief of the Ria Novosti news agency’s Bangkok bureau, says this series of accusations is very different from the previous ones in Bout’s case.

“It was just an indictment by prosecutors office. The court of New York has not approved it yet,” Belenky told RT. “It is very possible that the Thai court may think that this is more political pressure put on Viktor Bout and on Thailand to try to get Viktor Bout extradited.”