Thais to rule on suspected arms dealer extradition

Viktor Bout is reputed to be one of the world`s most prolific arms dealers.

Bangkok: The suspected Russian arms dealer known as "The Merchant of Death" is tired of prison life but optimistic a Thai appeals court will rule in his favour on Friday and refuse to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said.

Viktor Bout, a 44-year-old former Soviet air force officer, is reputed to be one of the world`s most prolific arms dealers. He has been linked to some of modern history`s most notorious conflicts, allegedly supplying weapons that fuelled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa to clients such as former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Bout`s high-profile arrest in a 2008 US sting operation in Bangkok ended nearly a quarter century of cat-and-mouse chases for the elusive Russian. It also raised Washington`s hopes for a quick handover of a man who has never been prosecuted despite being the subject of UN sanctions, a Belgian money-laundering indictment and a travel ban.

Instead, it spurred a diplomatic tug-of-war between Moscow and Washington that led to lengthy delays and prompted a lower court judge to seek input from the Foreign Ministry, saying he was in "a tough position" and feared ties with both countries could be at stake. The Bangkok Criminal Court ultimately rejected the US extradition request in August 2009.

Experts say Bout — who gained notoriety in the 1990s for running a fleet of aging Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict-ridden hotspots in Africa — has been useful for Russia`s intelligence apparatus, and Moscow does not want him going on trial in the United States.

Ahead of Friday`s verdict, Bout`s lawyer said his client was "feeling very well”.

"He`s having a very bad toothache. But in general, he`s very optimistic," said Lak Nittiwattanawichan. "I`ve had many clients who were in similar positions and they`d be very nervous, but Viktor can sleep at night."

Bout has repeatedly denied the accusations and claims his air cargo business was legitimate.

Bureau Report

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