Thai Court Puts Russia’s Bout Closer to U.S. Custody

A Thai court dismissed a second case against accused Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, clearing a legal hurdle to having him extradited to the U.S. to face terrorism charges.

“The second set of cases are dropped,” prosecutor Sirisak Tiyapan told reporters in Bangkok after the ruling. “So the extradition on the first case will continue.”

Thai prosecutors are seeking to send Bout to the U.S., where a grand jury indicted him on four charges that he plotted to kill Americans. Bout’s lawyer immediately announced plans to file more appeals in a bid to keep him in Thailand.

“It’s not finished yet,” lawyer Lak Nittiwattanawichan told reporters. “They can’t do anything. I know how to fight.”

Bout’s case has fueled a diplomatic row 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. accuses the ex-Soviet air force officer of running an air cargo network that shipped weapons to conflict zones from Afghanistan to Rwanda. Bout has denied wrongdoing, saying he was framed by U.S. undercover agents who posed as Colombian rebels during his arrest in Bangkok two years ago.

The court’s decision today dealt with charges the U.S. brought against Bout prior to the Aug. 20 appeals court ruling that he could be sent to America. Those included money laundering and electronic fraud.

Anti-Aircraft Missile, Terrorists

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.

“There’s a legal process that continues to unfold in Thailand, and we continue to look forward to the early transport of Mr. Bout to the United States,” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in Washington yesterday.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who will make the final decision on Bout’s extradition, has urged the U.S. and Russia to hold direct talks about the case.

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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