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A suspected Russian arms dealer detained in Thailand said his arrest
A suspected Russian arms dealer detained in Thailand said his arrest and trial had been arranged by the United States because he refused to become an American spy.

Viktor Bout, 41, was arrested in March in Bangkok during a joint police operation led by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The second hearing in his case in a Thai court started on Friday.

In an interview published Friday in Kommersant, a Russian business daily, Bout said Washington fabricated charges against him after he had refused to work as an informant.

"I was approached by some recruiters, especially in South Africa, who said it would be good if I shared with them information about the situation in one country or another and offered me a lot of perks. But I was not interested and I refused," Kommersant quoted him as saying.

"They attempted to recruit me because we worked with Libyans and ... some other countries that the Americans had an interest in. And after I refused, the UN started a sham investigation," he added.

Western law enforcement agencies consider Bout to be "the most prominent foreign businessman" involved in trafficking arms to UN-embargoed destinations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.

UN reports say Bout set up a network of more than 50 cargo aircraft around the world to facilitate his arms shipments, earning the nickname "merchant of death."

Bout admitted that his company transported weaponry around the world as part of its business operations, but said the shipments were legal.

"Everyone is attempting to picture me as an 'arms baron' or a 'merchant of death' ... but all shipment companies deliver weaponry, which is considered a legal cargo if declared properly," he said.

DEA prosecutors accuse Bout of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist group listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

Thailand received in early May a formal request from Washington to extradite Bout to the United States, where he has been indicted on four charges: conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

The former officer in the Russian army faces a life sentence if tried in a U.S. court, while Thai authorities earlier announced that they would not press charges against Bout.

Bout's Russian lawyer, Yan Dasgupta, said Thursday that the United States had no chance of securing extradition of his client under Thai law.

"As a lawyer I can say with certainty that if the case is reviewed [by Thai court] in line with the law, there is no chance for his extradition whatsoever," Dasgupta said.

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