Bangkok: A Thai court on Tuesday refused to extradite alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the United States to face trial on charges of supplying weapons to Colombian rebels
The United States wanted to try Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death," for conspiracy to sell millions of dollars of weapons to rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which it said could be used to kill Americans.
"The US charges are not applicable under Thai law. This is a political case. The FARC is fighting for a political cause and is not a criminal gang. Thailand does not recognise the FARC as a terrorist group," said the judge delivering the verdict at Bangkok`s Criminal Court.
The Unites States has 72 hours in which to appeal against the ruling, during which time Bout will remain in detention.
Bout was arrested in a Thai-US sting operation at a Bangkok hotel in March 2008 after arriving from Moscow.
Also known as "Boris" and "Vadim Markovich Aminov" among several other pseudonyms, bout has kept a high profile since his arrest, aided by an impassioned appearance by his wife at an extradition hearing earlier this year.
"He became a celebrity in a sense because of NGOs and UN reporting about him," Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Britain`s Royal Institute of International Affairs, said.
"He became the brand name for sanction-busting, but there are plenty of others who can offer the same services. It contributed to his problems, that he was a brand to be recognized," he said.