BANGKOK, Thailand – The man dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for his alleged arms smuggling activities took the stand Monday for the first time to fight extradition to the United States and deny charges that he conspired to arm Colombian rebels.
The United States is seeking the extradition of Viktor Bout, who was arrested in the Thai capital in a sting operation in which undercover U.S. agents posed as Latin American rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Dressed in an orange prison uniform, Bout was shackled at the ankles but looked relaxed and spoke in mostly measured tones during his testimony at Bangkok's Criminal Court.
"I never met or talked to anyone from FARC," Bout told the court. "I didn't do anything wrong in Thailand. I have never been to Colombia or the United States."
• Click here to see photos of the 'Merchant of Death.'
The 41-year-old Russian, who has long denied any involvement in illicit activities, was purportedly the model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie, "Lord of War."
He was arrested in March at a Bangkok luxury hotel and subsequently indicted in the U.S. on four terrorism-related charges.
Speaking in Russian, which was translated into Thai, Bout identified himself as a businessman involved in aviation and construction. He said he traveled to Bangkok "to relax" and to meet with "a Thai businessman who wanted to buy airplanes."
He denied committing any terrorist acts.
"The U.S. is trying to use this to cover up its internal problems and prevent good relations between Thailand and Russia," Bout said.
At one point, Bout held up two fingers and flashed the victory sign to an acquaintance in the courtroom.
According to reports by U.N. agencies and several Western governments, Bout has delivered arms to dictators and warlords in Africa and Afghanistan, allegedly breaking several U.N. arms embargoes in the process.
His extradition hearing started in June but has been repeatedly delayed, with a revolving door of defense attorneys.
Bangkok's Criminal Court has said it expects the hearing to wrap up Wednesday but one of Bout's defense attorneys, Preecha Prasertsak, said he planned to seek an extension to locate more witnesses.
At an earlier hearing, an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration testified that his agency set up the operation that lured Bout from Russia to his arrest in the Thai capital.
DEA agent Robert Zachariasiewicz told the court that Bout faces U.S. charges of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile. He could face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.