Thai Court Allows More Charges Against Russian Arms Dealer
A Thai court has ruled more charges against Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout, should be heard. The ruling will delay steps to extradite Bout to the United States to face charges of conspiracy and support for foreign terrorist organizations.
The 43-year-old Victor Bout arrived at the Thai court under heavy armed escort in a separate van and wearing a bullet proof jacket over his prisoner uniform.
The court ruled a second set of charges of money laundering and wire fraud that were brought by Washington, should be heard, overruling an appeal by the public prosecutor for the charges to be dropped.
The additional charges were filed after a Bangkok Criminal Court in August 2009 rejected an initial U.S. extradition request. The United States had filed an appeal and the new charges against Bout to ensure his continued detention and eventual extradition – a move that is now stalling the process.
Denies charges of involvement
Bout, a former Soviet air force officer known as an arms trader through the 1990s, was arrested in March 2008 in a sting operation at a Bangkok luxury hotel. U.S. agents had posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.
Bout has denied the charges of involvement in illicit arms trading to areas such as Africa, South America and the Middle East. Reports say Washington moved to arrest Bout after allegations arose of him supplying weapons to the Taliban.
Final decision by government
Earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would have the final say over the issue of Bout's extradition. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanaygorn said the administration would await a final court verdict.
"Well if it is in the case (of the appeal being rejected) the matter is in the court," Panitan said. "The government will not make any decision until the decision is final from the court. So that is our position."
In a letter distributed by his wife to reporters, Bout claimed his innocence, saying he had never sold weapons to anybody. His wife, Alla Bout, in a separate letter, also appealed to Prime Minister Abhisit, to block the extradition. She had accused U.S. Special Forces of violations during the arrest of her husband.
Moscow protests, calls for his return
Moscow has protested Bout's arrest as being politically motivated and had called for him to be sent back to Russia.
But analysts say Bout also has knowledge of Russia's military and intelligence operations and these are the key reasons why Moscow does not want Bout sent to the United States.
The hearing of the additional charges means Bout must remain in Thailand until a final verdict. Legal sources say Bout had hoped the charges would come to court to further delay the moves to extradite him. Any extension beyond three months and the order will expire requiring the process to begin again.
Article by Ron Corben, VOA News