The air cargo executive accused by U.N., U.S. and British authorities of providing weapons to terrorist organizations as part of the largest illegal arms transportation network in the world asserted his innocence today in a live radio interview in Moscow.
Victor Bout, the target of an international arrest warrant issued last week, walked into the Echo Moskvy radio station to denounce the allegations against him, calling them part of an anti-Russian plot, and to deny supplying arms to the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
"What do I have to be afraid of?" Bout said. "I have not done anything in my life to make me run or hide. . . . I deal solely with air transportation. I have never participated in arms sales."
The fact that Bout could turn up in public when Russian authorities have been asked to arrest him angered U.S. officials. U.S. sources said Washington was planning to contact the Russian government at a senior level in the next few days over the failure of the Kremlin to apprehend Bout.
"First [the Russians] said they didn't know who he was, then they didn't know where to find him," one official said. "He was on the air for almost two hours. He must be very hard to locate."
In the interview, Bout said he had been involved in the "air transportation business" since 1992 and acknowledged having flown many flights into Afghanistan before the Taliban took over all the country's airports in 1996.
"Now we have this ridiculous situation about supplying weapons to [Osama] bin Laden, including components for nuclear weapons," Bout said. "It looks like a plot for a Hollywood action film. They are longing to find a Russian in this business."
Correspondent Sharon LaFraniere in Moscow contributed to this report.