Pattaya Daily News

20 August 2010 :: 12:08:45 pm 35819

Thai Verdict on “The Merchant of Death” Expected Today

Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout revealed that he is tired of incarceration but has confidence that a Thai Appeals Court will rule in his favour toady and refuse to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said.
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Viktor Bout, branded “The Merchant of Death” is reputed to be one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, suspected of having supplied weapons in numerous regions of the world and to notoriously evil regimes such as that of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Using a fleet of aging Soviet-era cargo planes, Bout is alleged to have flown arms into conflict-ridden nations around, Africa, South America and the Middle East. It has often been touted by the U.S. intelligence agencies that Bout is a pawn of the Russian government who are eager to prevent him from being extradited to the United States and have been just as active in trying to get him release as U.S. authorities.

Bout was arrested in 2008 after a high-profile sting operation between U.S. and Thai authorities was instigated. During the elaborate operation led by U.S. agents posing as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Bout is believed to have agreed to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to FARC, marked as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. government.

Following his arrest, Bout was indicted in the U.S. on charges of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weaponry to a terrorist organisation, including more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of machine guns, high-tech helicopters and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles.

Expecting a quick turnover by the Thai authorities, the original U.S. extradition bid was rejected by a Thai Court who consider the FARC a political movement not a terrorist group and as such could not agree to the extradition based solely on a political offence. The refusal setoff ongoing accusations of corruption and bribery between Russian and U.S. officials and the Thai government, with both sides eager to see Bouts release for their own agendas.

Both Russia and the United States have reportedly been attempting to “butter” their respective Thai ambassadors in Moscow and Washington. Thai judges are also known to have approached the Foreign Ministry over the “tough position” that they find themselves in, regarding the effect any decision will have on diplomatic relations with the two nations.

In February 2010, following the initial rejection of Bout’s extradition, US prosecutors filed new charges stating that Bout and his former business associate Richard Chichakli used front companies in attempting to purchase two planes from the US, which is directly in violation of both United Nations and US sanctions. The sale was blocked by US authorities before being completed, with a verdict expected to be handed down today by the Thai courts.

Despite the ongoing investigation, prior UN sanctions against his dealings and a Belgian money laundering indictment and subsequent ban, Bout continues to deny all allegations, insisting that his cargo business is a legitimate operation.

Speaking to Bout prior to today’s verdict, Lak Nittiwattanawichan, his lawyer, stated that his client was “feeling very well. He’s having a very bad toothache. But in general, he’s very optimistic. He’s very disturbed that people have been misrepresenting him. Viktor is an entrepreneur, a businessman. He’s good at what he does.”

                  

Reporter : John Weston   Photo : Internet   Category : Thailand News

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