Viktor Bout extradited

Viktor Bout, the suspected Russian arms dealer, has been unexpectedly flown out of Thailand aboard a special jet to face terrorism charges in the US.
The 43-year-old former Soviet air force officer (dubbed the ‘Merchant of Death’) was given a heavily-armed escort when he was taken from Bangkok’s maximum security prison to the plane after the Thai cabinet approved the decision.
The Russian embassy in Bangkok said it was not warned of the move and Mr Bout’s lawyer in Moscow described his extradition to the US as ‘illegal’.
The Thai government came under intense pressure from Washington and Moscow during the long court saga since Mr Bout was arrested in joint US-Thai operation a luxury Bangkok hotel in March 2008.

Viktor Bout extradited
Viktor Bout.

The move saw Washington win a tug of war with Moscow over whether to send him to stand trial or let him go home.
The Thai cabinet approved Bout’s extradition after a long legal battle, and police said the 43-year-old was put aboard a plane in Bangkok heading for the US at about 1,30pm local time (0630 GMT) guarded by eight US officials.
Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his cabinet approved extradition after acknowledging an earlier appeals court decision that Bout could be legally extradited.
Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who is reputed to have been one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, was arrested at a Bangkok luxury hotel in March 2008 as part of a sting led by US agents.
Bout has allegedly supplied weapons that fuelled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa, with clients including Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Libya and both sides in Angola’s civil war.
The head of a lucrative air transport empire, Bout had long evaded UN and US sanctions aimed at blocking his financial activities and restricting his travel. He claims he ran a legitimate business and never sold weapons, and fought hard to avoid extradition.
“This is an unequivocally political decision, lobbied by the US government,” – Bout’s wife Alla said in Bangkok. “It has no legal basis whatsoever.”

Viktor Bout, dubbed the ‘Merchant of Death’ for his alleged international arms dealings and who has been extradited to the United States from Thailand, had a number of links with Bulgaria earlier in his career, according to allegations in United Nations and US Drug Enforcement Agency documents. Bout drew the attention of US intelligence agencies in 1999 when he and aircraft belonging to his companies turned up in various conflict zones in Africa.
Bout was arrested in 2008 in Bangkok after meeting US agents posing as Colombian Farc rebels. According to a Voice of America report, the agents told Bout that they wanted to buy weapons that would be used, among other things, to kill Americans. Allegedly, Bout agreed.
Bout, born in Tajikistan in 1967, is a former Soviet air force officer. He set up an air transport business after having bought Soviet surplus military aircraft.
A United Nations report in December 2000 said that Bulgarian arms manufacturing companies had exported large quantities of various kinds of weapons between 1996 and 1998 on the basis of end-user certificates from Togo. Allegedly, according to the report, some of these certificates were posted by Bout.

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