A Thai court rejected a prosecutor’s request to drop fresh charges against accused Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, potentially complicating U.S. efforts to have him extradited to face terrorism charges.
By law, prosecutors can’t drop the charges because Bout objected to their withdrawal, the Criminal Court said in a statement today. Prosecutors sought Bout’s extradition on six new charges prior to an Aug. 20 ruling by an appeals court that he could be sent back to the U.S., where a grand jury indicted him on four charges that he plotted to kill Americans.
The court plans to rule tomorrow at 2 p.m. on whether Bout can be extradited to the U.S. on the new charges, according to a statement. Bout plans to file more cases to the Criminal Court to further stall his extradition, lawyer Lak Nittiwattanawichan told reporters.
“We will explore ways to free Bout from prison,” he said.
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. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Aug. 20 ruling to extradite Bout “political” and summoned Thailand’s ambassador.
The U.S. says the ex-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.
Money Laundering, Electronic Fraud
Thai prosecutors sought Bout’s extradition to the U.S. on six new charges before an appeals court ruled on Aug. 20 that he could be sent to America. The charges include money laundering and electronic fraud and carry a penalty of more than one year in jail.
Bout, 43, 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.
Any decision on whether to extradite Bout will be based on “international relations and the country’s benefit,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has the final say on Bout, told reporters on Sept. 30. He has urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the case with Russia, he said.
“The decision may upset someone but we will follow the law and take this time to create understanding to all parties involved,” Abhisit said Sept. 30.
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.