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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Belgium Issues Warrant for Former Soviet Army Officer Believed to be Running Arms Smuggling Network

Aired March 4, 2002 - 04:13   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're going to move on to another CNN exclusive. Just last month, Belgium issued an arrest warrant for Viktor Bout, a former Soviet Army officer believed to be running the world's largest arms smuggling network. Among his recent customers, according to the U.N., are the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.

Earlier this morning, CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty sat down with Mr. Bout for an exclusive interview. She joins us now -- good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Well, it was a pretty strange experience, I must say, because, after all, as you pointed out, there is an international arrest warrant for Viktor Bout and yet here he was at CNN. He said he wanted to clear his name and he also said that he is not afraid of being arrested.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIKTOR BOUT, ACCUSED ARMS DEALER: I'm not afraid. I don't have anything in my life for what I should be afraid. And this whole story looks to me like a witch hunt. Look, I'm coming to your office. I have no problem -- and I said, hey, who's looking for me? I'm here. I'm not hiding from nobody. I'm having my normal life and I don't want this story going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: Now, Bout did say that he has a legitimate air cargo business and he's had it since 1992. But there are essentially three major allegations against him. One is that he sold arms to rebel groups in Africa and was paid in what are called blood diamonds. And this, too, he denied.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: The allegations against you are that you were transporting arms and that you were paid for this transport in diamonds. Is that the case? BOUT: It's a false allegation and it's a lie. I never touched diamonds in my life and I am not a diamond guy and I don't want to go to that business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: So another allegation concerns Afghanistan and that is British intelligence says that it found evidence in Afghanistan recently that Viktor Bout had shipped arms to the Taliban and then to al Qaeda. He denied that. He said yes, I was involved in Afghanistan going back to 1994, but he said he was shipping household goods, textiles, a variety of things to legitimate clients in Afghanistan. He says he pulled out in 1996, never had any dealings with the Taliban and also never saw Osama bin Laden.

And finally, the last thing, Iraq, and that is the most recent allegation, that he had dealings supplying sensitive not only arms, but sensitive technology to Iraq. This, too, Viktor Bout denied.

And, Paula, as I said, it was a rather strange interview because after all with this international arrest warrant, there, it's predated by the fact that the Russian police say that they have been looking for him for four years. And here he is in Moscow. He said that he's going to be visiting some friends and apparently doesn't feel that the Russian authorities, at least at this point, are taking any action.

ZAHN: Jill, I know you just finished this interview, but one would think that U.S. officials that you might talk to won't be surprised by his denials. But what do you make of every single denial? Every charge that was made he shot down.

DOUGHERTY: Well, yes. It's not, you know, my job to really ferret out all of this at this point based on what he said. It's a very, very complicated area. In fact, at one part in the conversation he said look, you're here in Russia. You know that everything has to go out legitimately and you can't get things through customs. And I said, no, that that's not how it works, that you can bribe people in a number of countries very easily.

But he still claims that regardless of that fact, which he did admit that you can bribe people all over the place, he claims that it was a legitimate business and he said there's an hysterical witch hunt for him. He wouldn't say by whom, though, Paula.

ZAHN: Well, it will be interesting to see what kind of reaction it inspires later today.

Jill Dougherty, thank you very much for that exclusive. Appreciate your efforts.

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