Thailand extradites Russian arms dealer to US

Viktor Bout sent to US to face terrorism charges after highly politicized battle by Moscow and Washington over appeals process in Thai court.

November 16, 2010 10:11
2 minute read.
Weapons found in Nigeria

nigeria weapons 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

BANGKOK — The Thai government extradited accused Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout to the United States on Tuesday to face terrorism charges, rejecting heavy pressure from Moscow for him to be freed.

The Cabinet approved Bout's extradition Tuesday after a long legal battle, and Police Col. Supisarn Bhakdinarinath said the 43-year-old Russian was put aboard a plane in Bangkok at about 1:30 p.m. local time.

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Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters after the cabinet meeting that the government sided with an earlier appeals court decision that Bout could be extradited.

Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who is reputed to have been one of the world's most prolific arms dealers, was arrested at a Bangkok luxury hotel in March 2008 as part of a sting operation led by US agents.

The head of a lucrative air transport empire, Bout had long evaded UN and US sanctions aimed at blocking his financial activities and restricting his travel. He claims he ran a legitimate business and never sold weapons.

Bout has allegedly supplied weapons that fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa, with clients including Liberia's Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and both sides in Angola's civil war.

Russia had made strong public statements against Bout's extradition, and privately, both Moscow and Washington were reported to be exerting heavy pressure on Abhisit's government. US lawmakers also became involved, sending a letter to the Thai government urging extradition.

A Thai court in August of 2009 originally rejected Washington's request for Bout's extradition on terrorism-related charges. After that ruling was reversed by an appeals court in August this year, the US moved to get him out quickly, sending a special plane to stand by.

However, just ahead of the appeals court ruling, the United States forwarded new money-laundering and wire fraud charges to Thailand in an attempt to keep Bout detained if the court ordered his release. But the move backfired by requiring a hearing on the new charges. Those were dismissed in early October.

Russia has said that Bout is an innocent businessman and wants him in Moscow. Experts state Bout has knowledge of Russia's military and intelligence operations and that Moscow does not want him going on trial in the United States.

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