Thai court grants extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer

Last Updated: Friday, August 20, 2010 - 13:36

Bangkok: A Thai appeals court on Friday
granted a request by the United States to extradite Viktor
Bout, an alleged Russian arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of
Death", on terrorism charges.

Bout, said to have inspired the Hollywood film "Lord
of War" starring Nicolas Cage, has been fighting extradition
since his March 2008 arrest in Bangkok in a sting operation
involving US agents.

He faces life in prison if convicted in the United
States on terrorism charges, including conspiracy to kill US
officers or employees and conspiracy to acquire and use an
anti-aircraft missile.

His young daughter -- who attended the hearing
accompanied by his wife -- broke down in tears after the court
delivered its ruling.

"The court has decided to detain him for extradition
to the US," judge Jitakorn Patanasiri said, overturning a
ruling last year by a lower court which had refused to send
him to the United States.

"This case is not political, it is a criminal matter,"
the judge said.

The Russian refused to talk to journalists as he was
led out of court shackled at his wrists and ankles.
The United States had pressed Thailand to hand over
Bout.

The US State Department called in Thai ambassador Don
Pramudwinai this week "to emphasise that this is of the
highest priority of the United States," spokesman Philip
Crowley told reporters on Thursday.

"We believe that we`ve presented significant evidence
to justify his extradition to the United States," he said.

US lawmakers had urged the ambassador to let
authorities in Bangkok know that rejecting the request would
harm ties with Washington and said the kingdom`s judiciary
handling of the case had not been "fair and transparent."

"We find the potential release of a man responsible
for countless deaths of innocents in Africa and elsewhere
simply astounding," said the group, led by House Foreign
Affairs Committee Howard Berman, a Democrat.

"More so as there is little doubt that he would return
to his deadly trade, arming those targeting US and Thai
interests around the globe," they said in a letter delivered
to the Thai embassy in Washington on Wednesday.

A US indictment accuses Bout of using a fleet of cargo
planes to transport weapons and military equipment to Africa,
South America and the Middle East.

During an undercover operation, Bout allegedly agreed
to supply surface-to-air missiles to US anti-drug agents
posing as rebels from Colombia`s Marxist FARC group, which
Washington considers a terrorist organisation.

PTI



First Published: Friday, August 20, 2010 - 13:36

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