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'Merchant of Death' extradited to US

The suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has been extradited to the US, where he faces terrorism charges that could put him in jail for life. Russia has condemned the Thai government's move.

Alleged Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout is escorted to the airport

Alleged Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout is escorted to the airport

After months of legal and diplomatic wrangling, Thailand decided to extradite Viktor Bout, who has been nicknamed the "Merchant of Death," to the US on Tuesday.

The suspected arms dealer’s lawyer Lak Nitiwattanawichan said that his client had been escorted in a convoy from a high-security jail in the Thai capital and flown out on a small chartered US aircraft. He said that he would file a complaint with the government on Wednesday.

The Merchant of Death is accused of selling all sorts of illegal weapons

The "Merchant of Death" is accused of selling all sorts of illegal weapons

The US embassy in Bangkok confirmed the extradition of Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force officer, but said little else.

"Not possible to please everyone"

The Thai cabinet's approval of Bout's extradition came as a surprise. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told journalists that it was not "possible to please everyone. The cabinet decision was based on the court ruling that the case was not political and that there was no reason not to extradite him."

Bout faces a life sentence in the US if found guilty of terrorism charges.

He is accused of having supplied the Taliban and al-Qaeda with weapons, as well as trying to sell illegal weapons to warring parties in Angola, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

Caught in a sting operation

Considered to be one of the world’s most powerful arms dealers, the Russian and his accomplice Andrew Smulian, were caught in Bangkok in March 2008 after a sting operation in which US agents posed as buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Viktor Bout was caught in a joint Thai-US sting operation

Viktor Bout was caught in a joint Thai-US sting operation

"Bout and Smulian agreed to sell weapons to the FARC for its violent cause and they arranged the details of the deal," explained Michael Garcia, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time of arrest.

"The weapons that Bout and Smulian planned to supply included surface-to-air missile systems and armor piercing rocket launchers. For Bout and Smulian, the arms deal was very real. They demonstrated both their willingness to support a terrorist organization and their capacity to do so."

The US had been urging Bout’s extradition ever since. On Tuesday, Russia reacted angrily to Bangkok’s decision.

"It is deeply regrettable that the Thai authorities have yielded to political pressure from outside and carried out this illegal extradition," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Author: Bernd Musch-Borowska (act)
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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