US offers deal to arms suspect Bout: Russia

Suspected arms dealer Viktor Bout was flown to New York from Thailand.

Last Updated: Nov 18, 2010, 16:00 PM IST

Moscow: A Russian diplomat said on Thursday that US authorities pressured suspected arms dealer Viktor Bout to admit guilt during his extradition flight to the United States, offering him unspecified benefits in return.

Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who could be imprisoned for life if convicted on US terrorism and arms trafficking charges, rejected the offer, Russia`s consul in the United States said in remarks shown on Russian state television.

Bout was flown to New York late on Tuesday from Thailand, where he had been the focus of a tug-of-war between Russia and the United States since his March 2008 arrest in a US-led sting operation.

"Some pressure was applied in transit. In Viktor Bout`s words, they tried to `persuade` him to admit to things he did not do, promising certain advantages in return," consul Andrei Yushmanov told Russian reporters in New York.

"Viktor Anatolyevich rejected these efforts," he said, referring to the Russian suspect by his name and patronymic.

Yushmanov did not elaborate and it was unclear whether he was referring to a potential plea deal.

Bout, 43, faces four conspiracy charges over arms dealing since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East -- allegations that inspired the Hollywood movie "Lord of War" starring Nicholas Cage.

Bout`s extradition is a victory for US law enforcement and the administration of US President Barack Obama. But it adds to strains threatening to undermine improvements in US-Russian relations since Obama took office.

Russia called his extradition "illegal" and accused Thai authorities of yielding to US political pressure. While Bout has been nicknamed the `Merchant of Death` in the West, Russian authorities refer to him as a businessman.

He was arrested in Thailand shortly after arriving from Moscow, where he had lived for years with no apparent interference from Russian authorities, angering Washington and prompting speculation that he had protection from the state.

A judge ordered Bout detained without bail on Wednesday. He is due back in Manhattan federal court for a hearing on January 10.

A federal public defender was named to represent Bout, but Yushmanov said Russia would help hire a lawyer "if necessary”.

He said Bout`s clothes, money and toiletries were taken from him by Thai authorities, and that he was given "dirty" clothes.

Bureau Report