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Court told of weapons and tango

THE wife of a Russian businessman accused of conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian rebels said yesterday that the only trip the couple had ever taken to Latin America was to learn the tango.

Alla Bout was testifying at an extradition hearing for Viktor Bout, a former Soviet airforce officer dubbed "The Merchant of Death" who is reputed to have been one of the world's most prolific arms dealers.

Bout, 42, was arrested in Bangkok last March in an elaborate sting operation in which United States agents posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

US prosecutors say that Bout was offering a deadly arsenal of weapons, including more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of guns, high-tech helicopters, and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles.

He has been indicted on four terrorism-related charges in New York, and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. He has long been linked to some of the world's most notorious conflicts, allegedly supplying arms to former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Alla Bout ?? who identified herself as a 45-year-old fashion designer - said she believed her husband was "a pawn in the chess game" between Russia and the US.

"I believe my husband does honest business," she told the Thai court. "We have been together 17 years. There is no reason for me to believe he has done anything illegal."

Although the US indictment of Bout does not allege he traveled to Latin America to set up the deal, his wife sought to distance him from any suggestion of involvement in the area.

She said the only trip he made to the area was to Argentina for three days with her in 1997 "to pay respects to Evita Peron and for tango lessons." She said her husband would not receive a fair trial if extradited to the US.

Bout is believed to have been the model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War."


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