'Merchant of Death' says he turned down US plea bargain

2nd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The suspected Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" said in a rare interview published Sunday that he rejected a US plea bargain offer that would have exposed his alleged contact list.

Viktor Bout also accused the United States of waging a well-orchestrated smear campaign against him and said from his New York prison that he did not expect justice in the United States.

"I was offered a softer sentence and a shorter prison term if I told them everything I knew about my contacts in Russia and other countries," Bout told RIA Novosti in comments relayed to the state news agency by Russia's deputy consul in New York.

Bout -- whose story inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage film "Lord of War" -- was arrested in a sting operation in Bangkok by Thai and US forces in March 2008 and extradited to New York in November following a long legal battle.

Military analysts in Moscow said the arrest was a particularly sensitive blow for Russia because it threatened to expose potential links between government officials and the illicit arms trade.

The 43-year-old former Soviet military translator has been charged with arms trafficking and terrorism in a case that will be heard in a Manhattan federal court.

The indictment accuses Bout of assembling a fleet of cargo planes in the 1990s and transporting weapons to insurgents in violence-wracked countries in Africa as well as South America and the Middle East.

US Attorney General Eric Holder recently called Bout "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers".

Russia initially fought Bout's extradition to the United States. But the Kremlin's top foreign policy adviser said in November that Bout "should answer the questions that US justice has for him."

Bout has insisted on his innocence and accused the United States of trying to make him a scapegoat for various international problems.

"I think that the court will definitely be biased and not objective. I say this based on the fact that the US government intentionally distorted facts about my life and work in its charge sheet," Bout said.

Bout said the politically-charged atmosphere made it impossible for him to get a fair hearing.

"For the past 10 years, the US authorities have been directly and through the media waging war against me and my family. We have been buried under a torrent of lies," Bout said.

"In such conditions, no one here -- including the judge -- can be impartial."

© 2011 AFP

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