Thailand - US - Russia

Russia opposes 'Merchant of Death' extradition

Russia has slammed a Thai appeals court's decision to allow the extradition of alleged  arms dealer Viktor Bout to the USBout, a Russian citizen, will face terrorism charges.

Viktor Bout, dubbed "the merchant of death," on his arrest in Bangkok, March 6th 2008
Viktor Bout, dubbed "the merchant of death," on his arrest in Bangkok, March 6th 2008 Reuters

Moscow dubbed the decision "illegitimate".

"We regret what is in my opinion an unjust decision, a political decision that the appeals court in Thailand has taken," Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying while on a visit to Armenia.

"This decision, according to the information that we have, was taken under very strong pressure from the outside," he said in a probable reference to the US. "I assure you that we will continue to do everything necessary to obtain his return to the motherland."

The US, which has described Bout as "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers", had lobbied hard to have him handed over.

Bout, who inspired the Hollywood film Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage, has been fighting extradition since his March 2008 arrest in Bangkok in a sting operation involving US agents posing as Colombian rebels.

He allegedly agreed to supply millions of dollars of weapons to undercover US agents in Thailand who posed as rebels from Colombia's Marxist Farc group, which Washington considers a terrorist organisation.

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

The 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot is said to speak six languages and go by at least seven different aliases

Bout, who has been held at a maximum-security prison outside Bangkok, has denied the charges and says that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.

The US has linked him to ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is currently on trial at a war crimes court in the Hague for his alleged role in the 1991-2001 Sierra Leone civil war, which claimed some 120,000 lives.

Bout faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

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