U.S. authorities bring charges against Russian ‘arms dealer’

By RIA Novosti,

Washington : U.S. authorities have officially brought charges against an alleged Russian arms dealer who they claimed attempted to sell weapons to a terrorist organization in Colombia, a senior U.S. drug enforcement official has said.

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The charges against Viktor Bout, 41, include conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

“Viktor Bout no doubt faces some of the most extraordinarily serious conspiracy charges possible for his crimes against Americans,” Michele Leonhart, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said in a statement late on Tuesday.

DEA prosecutors claim that Bout conspired with others to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist group listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

If convicted, he may face life imprisonment or, at the very least, a long prison term.

Washington is seeking Bout’s extradition from Thailand where he was arrested in March in a joint police operation led by the U.S. DEA agents.

Thai authorities said in April that they would not bring charges against Bout, but would keep him in custody pending a decision on a U.S. extradition request.

Bout is a former lieutenant in the Russian military who quit the armed forces in 1991. He then allegedly transformed himself into an international arms dealer, earning the nickname ‘the Merchant of Death.’ The Western media has consistently referred to him as a “former KGB officer.”

Western law enforcement agencies consider him to be “the most prominent foreign businessman” involved in trafficking arms to UN-embargoed destinations.

U.N. reports say Bout set up a network of more than 50 cargo aircraft around the world to facilitate his arms shipments.

U.S. authorities took measures against Bout in 2005, freezing his bank accounts and submitting a list of 30 companies linked to Bout to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee.