Thailand extradited Viktor Bout to the U.S. to face terrorism charges, ending two years of legal wrangling over the accused Russian arms dealer dubbed the “merchant of death.”
Bout left Bangkok’s Don Muang airport on a 14-seat U.S. jet at 1:27 p.m. local time, said Supisarn Phakdinarinath, a Metropolitan Police spokesman. The extradition was approved by Thailand’s Cabinet today, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
The U.S. says Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, ran an air cargo network that shipped weapons to conflict zones from Afghanistan to Rwanda. Bout has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying he was framed by U.S. undercover agents who posed as Colombian rebels during his arrest in Bangkok two years ago.
Bout is charged in the U.S. with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiracy to acquire an anti-aircraft missile and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist group. If convicted, he may face life in prison.
Bout’s case has fueled a diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Russia, with each country pressuring Thailand to follow its version of events.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the “illegal extradition” resulted from “unprecedented U.S. political pressure on the government and judiciary of Thailand.” The U.S. push for extradition “can only be described as interference in the judicial process and casts doubt on the independence of the Thai judicial system and decisions made by the Thai authorities,” the ministry said on its website.
Bout’s brother, Sergei, said the extradition decision was political. “There’s no proof of his guilt,” he said. “The U.S. needs a scapegoat because they can’t find Osama bin Laden. They’re also trying to show that Russia isn’t fighting terrorism.”
The Moscow mobile phone of Bout’s wife Alla was switched off when Bloomberg News tried to reach her today. Bout’s Thai lawyer, Lak Nittiwattanawichan, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone. His Russian lawyer, Viktor Burobin, didn’t answer calls to his Moscow office.
The extradition was delayed when a Thai court ruled last month that a second set of charges against Bout must be heard. The additional charges, which included money laundering and electronic fraud, were dismissed on Oct. 5, clearing the way for Bout’s extradition.
The U.S. Treasury imposed financial sanctions on Bout in 2004 and 2005. He controlled as many as 50 aircraft, according to Amnesty International, and specialized in delivering weapons around the world.
The U.S. was Thailand’s biggest trading partner last year, with $16.7 billion in commerce, about 40 times more than the Southeast Asian country’s trade with Russia.
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