Saturday, 21 August 2010

Alleged Russian gun runner extradited to the USA

Russian Victor Bout, arrested in Bangkok in 2008, is to be extradited to the USA, where he is accused of illegal arms dealing and could face a life term in prison.

Bout’s defence claims that the Thai court was under colossal pressure and is getting ready to prove the political undertow of the case in America.

And once news of his extradition was confirmed Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said he would move to have Bout brought back to Russia rather than face an American courtroom.

Bout was arrested in the Thai capital in 2008 on the orders of American special services and faced charges of breaking an embargo on arms deliveries to warring factions in Africa. American prosecutors also think that Bout was “cooperating with terrorism” by selling weapons to FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

Bout was arrested during a sting, when US agents posed as FARC representatives and asked him to sell them 100 surface-to-air missiles, several helicopters, anti-missile systems, as well as to organise a drop-off from a plane on Colombian territory.

Bout spent the next two years in prison in Thailand, while both Russian and the US government have been demanding his extradition.

At first the judges agreed with the American prosecutors’ arguments, and then they changed their minds. In August, 2009 they announced that they did not see Bout as criminal, because in Thailand FARC is considered a political organisation fighting for its rights, rather than a terrorist one. It meant that his actions could not be classified as support of terrorism, and he should not be extradited.

This decision was then successfully appealed by the American side. The new ruling by the Court of Appeal, which is the highest in Thailand, cannot be changed again.

“During the process we have always stressed that the case has a political undertow … but the court found our arguments insufficient,” Alla Bout told

She also claims that the Thai judges were under “colossal pressure” from the US State department. “How else do you interpret the State Department’s yesterday’s statement, whose representative said that the case of Victor Bout is a priority in America and that they will try to achieve his extradition by any means necessary? They were sure that they would succeed,” she said.

A US state department spokesman, PJ Crowley, said the Thai ambassador was summoned to the state department this week so that US officials could “emphasise that this is of the highest priority to the United States.”

“We are pleased with the decision. We think we presented convincing enough proof,” the press service said.

Earlier Alla Bout had asked the Russian authorities to interfere in her husband’s case. “I have the only choice left – to ask the Russian government to take some measures to restore justice in this case,” she told Echo Moskvy. “I do not understand why Russia has not made any harsh statements about it yet,” she added.

Bout, dubbed by some as “The Merchant of Death,” was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 1967. After school he served in the army for two years and then graduated from the Military institute of foreign languages. He resigned from serving as a translator in 1991 and started his own air transport business. His company Air Cess had 20 planes and helicopters. He has been accused of gunrunning since the early 90s.

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