US captors of alleged arms dealer Bout detail Thailand sting

19th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The undercover US agents who captured the alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout lured him to Thailand by posing as Colombian insurgents bent on shooting US pilots, their handlers said Thursday.

The two senior Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents give new details on the arrest of Bout, describing him as "one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth," in an interview with CBS news to be broadcast on Sunday.

Bout, 43, a former Russian military officer whose story inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage film "Lord of War," was extradited to New York earlier this week to face terrorism charges in a case that has strained US-Russian ties.

Michael Braun and Louis Milione describe how two operatives posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and going by the names "Eduardo" and "The Comandante" met a trusted Bout associate in Curacao.

On the Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, they convinced the associate, Andrew Smulian, that they wanted to buy 12 million dollars worth of arms to battle the US-backed Colombian army.

At their next meeting, in Copenhagen, Smulian used the real name of his employer and even used his nickname, "The Merchant of Death."

At that point the undercover agents asked to see Bout in person in a risky bid to get him to leave Moscow.

"Comandante is not going to release these millions of dollars... until he at least shakes hands, talks, looks Bout in the eye, and then we can move on," Milione says. "And Bout went for it."

At the March 2008 meeting in Thailand the men discussed: "Five thousand AK-47s, anti-personnel mines, fragmentation grenades, armor-piercing rockets," according to Milione.

They spoke of "a shared ideology of communism and fighting against the Americans," Milione says, adding that Bout said a number of things that will be used as evidence against him.

At one point the undercover agents said they wanted sniper rifle scopes so they can "start blowing the heads off of American pilots," Milione said, adding that Bout responded "Yes."

The agents said after two hours they had heard enough. They gave the signal and Thai police and DEA agents swept into the room. As Bout put his hands up, according to Milione, he muttered: "The game is over."

Bout's sudden extradition from Thailand followed a long legal battle and intense opposition from Moscow, which initially denounced the move as "extreme injustice" and said it would support him "by all means".

However, Russia softened its tone on Thursday, saying it had no military secrets to hide in connection to the case and distancing itself from the highly controversial figure.

Bout has always maintained his innocence, insisting he runs a legitimate air cargo business, and pleaded not guilty in a New York court on Wednesday.

He faces between 25 years and life in prison if convicted.

© 2010 AFP

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