Alleged Arms Dealer Bout In Thai Court For Extradition Case

28 Jul

BANGKOK – A Thai court will on Monday begin extradition hearings for alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, which could see the man dubbed the “Merchant of Death” face terrorism charges in the United States.

Bout, who acquired his macabre nickname for his alleged role in supplying weapons to some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, was arrested in Bangkok in March after a sting operation headed by US agents.

Thailand’s criminal court must decide whether there is enough evidence to send Bout to the US, where he faces four counts of terrorism for seeking to sell millions of dollars of weapons to Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebels.

During an elaborate undercover operation, Bout allegedly agreed to supply surface-to-air missiles to US anti-drug agents posing as rebels from FARC, which Washington considers to be a foreign terrorist organisation.

He has also been charged with conspiracy to kill US officers or employees and conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

US officials including Attorney General Michael Mukasey have said they are optimistic the Thai court will allow the extradition.

Bout faces life in prison if convicted by a US court, and has been held at a maximum-security prison outside Bangkok since his arrest on March 6. The former Soviet air force officer has denied the charges against him.

Bout’s Thai lawyer Lak Nitiwatvichan said the court was likely on Monday to hear testimonies from US embassy staff and Thai police involved in the case.

“I don’t know how long the hearings will take, but I am confident I can prove the charges are politically motivated,” Lak told AFP.

A US indictment accuses Bout of using a fleet of cargo planes to transport weapons and military equipment to Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Prosecutors said that as a result of alleged trafficking in Liberia, Bout was in 2004 placed on the US government’s Specially Designated Nationals list, prohibiting any transactions between US nationals and Bout.

Bout is accused of being a global gun-runner since the 1990s, and is believed to have supplied arms to the Taliban militia, Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terror network and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

The mustachioed Russian’s dealings are said to have inspired the Hollywood movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage as a ruthless arms trader.

His apparent downfall came after a 12-month undercover operation in which US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents infiltrated Bout’s inner circle posing as Colombian rebels seeking an arsenal of weapons.

– AFP /ls

Channel News Asia

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