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Thai court removes hurdle to Viktor Bout extradition

Reuters

A Thai court has dismissed a second set of charges against alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, removing a major obstacle to his extradition to the United States. The so-called “Merchant of Death” was facing money-laundering and fraud charges.

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Citing insufficient evidence, Thailand's Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed proceedings surrounding the new charges against Bout.

In August, a Thai appeals court had ordered that Bout be handed over to Washington on terrorism charges, but the process had been held up by technicalities over the new accusations.

State prosecutors say they will not appeal, and will work on the extradition process. However Bout's defence lawyer has said he plans a last-ditch legal challenge against the extradition order.

Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot, was arrested in 2008 after a sting operation in Bangkok involving undercover US agents posing as rebels from Colombia's FARC rebels, considered a terrorist group by Washington.

He denies suggestions he was once a KGB agent and maintains that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted in the United States on charges including conspiracy to kill US nationals and providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

Russia has strongly opposed the extradition, saying it was politically motivated and vowed "to do everything necessary" to bring Bout home.

This sparked speculation that Bout may have knowledge of sensitive information.
 

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