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'Merchant of Death' appeals for Moscow support

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) March 10, 2011
A suspected Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" urged Moscow on Thursday to pile political pressure on Washington to win his release from US detention.

Viktor Bout's jail cell interview with Kommersant coincided with a visit to Moscow by US Vice President Joe Biden and came amid reports that he might be exchanged for a man recently convicted of spying for the United States.

"Considering the unceremonious nature of US foreign policy, I can say that my case is hardly going to be the first" of its kind, Bout told the Moscow business daily.

"So if this issue becomes the subject of discussion in the State Duma, the Security Council, during government meetings -- I would only welcome that."

Bout is believed by US law enforcement to be one of the world's biggest arms traffickers. He was arrested in a US sting in March 2008 and extradited from Thailand in November after a long legal battle. He is being held in the high security wing of a Manhattan detention centre.

Analysts believe that Russia fears Bout may expose links to current or former government officials and is keen to exchange him for a US agent.

Bout on Wednesday again dismissed international press reports suggesting he may have worked with alleged agents who now have powerful posts in the Russian government.

Several Western and Russian press reports have claimed that Bout in the 1980s worked in Mozambique together with current Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

Bout said of Sechin that "unfortunately, I do not know him. But I would be glad to make his acquaintance."

The 44-year-old is suspected by the United Nations of selling arms to groups ranging from the Taliban to Liberia's former president Charles Taylor.

The formal charges filed against him in a Manhattan federal court include terrorism and conspiracy to possess and use anti-aircraft missiles.

Bout's name has been mentioned in several potential agent exchanges -- all of them eventually proving false.

The Interfax news agency cited a law enforcement source as saying Wednesday that Bout may be swapped for a man named Andrei Khlychev.

The Russian last week was reportedly given an 18-year sentence by a Moscow court for spying for the United States.

Bout's lawyer on Wednesday denied any knowledge of such a potential exchange.

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