http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/wo...2 &ei=5087%0A Major Arms Dealer Arrested in Thailand BANGKOK — One of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, suspected of supplying weapons to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and of pouring huge arms shipments into Africa’s civil wars with his own private air fleet, was arrested by Thai authorities in a hotel here Thursday. His capture was prompted by a tipoff from the United States in connection with the procurement of weapons for the Colombian FARC rebels. Victor Bout was arrested Thursday in Bangkok on allegations that he supplied Colombian rebels with arms and explosives, Thai police said. The Justice Department said that federal prosecutors in New York would unseal criminal charges against the arms dealer, Viktor Bout, 41, and one of his associates later Thursday, charging them with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Such a step would mean that American prosecutors think it likely Mr. Bout will be brought to the United States to stand trial. Mr. Bout, who is wanted by the police in many countries, is a former Soviet Air Force officer. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, he built a network of air cargo companies in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and the United States, according to the United States Treasury,. United Nations reports and other investigations have concluded that Mr. Bout may have run the world’s largest arms-smuggling network. Peter Hain, a former British minister for Europe, who investigated the arms-for-diamonds trade, has called him “Africa’s chief merchant of death.” In 2005, he was described by Amnesty International as “the most prominent foreign businessman” involved in trafficking arms to nations that are embargoed by the United Nations. Mr. Bout, who also goes by the first names Victor and Vic, was said to be the inspiration for the film, “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage, about an unscrupulous arms trafficker. Investigators of his businesses say he has used his private air network to transport weapons from Soviet-era stockpiles of tanks, helicopters and weapons into international conflicts around the world including in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan. Mr. Bout’s arrest in Thailand came after a Colombian military raid into Ecuador on Saturday, during which the Colombian Army killed 24 guerrillas and obtained a computer laptop belonging to a senior FARC rebel commander. It was not immediately clear whether the arrest and the seizure of information on the laptop were related. The arrest came on a tip from the United States Drug Enforcement Agency that Mr. Bout was traveling to Thailand, said Police Col. Petcharat Sengchai of the Crime Suppression Division, who led the arresting team. Colonel Petcharat said Mr. Bout, who is a Russian citizen, was wanted for “the procurement of weapons and explosives for Colombian rebels," referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a leftist insurgency that has been fighting Colombia’s government for decades and is known to fund itself partly through the cocaine trade. The police said Mr. Bout had been arrested at noon at the Silom Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok and was being held in the offices of the Crime Suppression Division. His assets and front companies were targeted by the Treasury in 2005 because of his connections to Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia who faces charges of war crimes. A security analyst in Bangkok, who had spoken to the Thai authorities and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bout had been in Thailand since January and was regularly changing hotels. He was arrested during a meeting with someone from Russia or Eastern Europe, the analyst said, and American counter-terrorism officials were interrogating him. The analyst said the Thai government was anxious to get him out of the country, and the American authorities were anxious to get him as well. A mythology grew up around him, but in 2002 he appeared abruptly on a Moscow radio station, Ekho Moskvy news radio, insisting on the air that he was innocent, and had never had contact with Taliban or Al Qaeda representatives. He said that the accusations against him “resemble more a script for a Hollywood thriller.” “I can say only one thing: I have never supplied or done anything and I have never been in contact with either Taliban representatives or Al Qaeda representatives,” Mr. Bout said. According to Brian Johnson-Thomas, an arms trafficking researcher in Britain, Mr. Bout has been selling arms to the FARC for the last year to 18 months. He said the weapons were mostly AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, and possibly some surface-to-air missiles. The weapons came from Central Asia, mostly Kazakhstan, Mr. Johnson-Thomas said. He said Mr. Bout had over 40 planes, and that many of them were registered in Equitorial Guinea. The arms reached the FARC via Paraguay, then through Argentina and Uruguay, said Mr. Johnson-Thomas, who returned recently from a research trip to South America. Mr. Bout’s planes “don’t return empty,” he said. They return to Africa loaded with drugs, which are then shipped into Europe. "It’s guns in, drugs out," he said. In February 2002, Belgium issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Bout on money laundering charges. At the time, the Belgian judge-prosecutors office said that Mr. Bout was believed to have used a small airport on the North Sea near Ostend, Belgium, as his western air-smuggling hub. He flew planes from there to central Europe to load up with arms, and then to Africa or Afghanistan. Many of the arms he supplied originally came from Bulgaria and Romania, and were loaded aboard with false end-user certificates to prevent the United Nations from discovering that they were bound for arms-embargoed countries, the Belgium authorities said. Mr. Bout, who was born in Tajikistan and educated at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, is said to speak six languages and to have started in the arms trade when his air force unit was disbanded with the breakup of the Soviet Union. At the time, many cargo plane crews left with their aircraft and hired themselves out. In 2002 he was described as having homes in Russia, Rwanda and in the United Arab Emirates, as well as one in Johannesburg. Seth Mydans reported from Bangkok, and Raymond Bonner from London. Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York and David Johnston contributed reporting from Washington.