International weapon smuggler faces charges, extradition

March 7th, 2008 - 6:11 pm ICT by admin  

Bangkok, March 7 (DPA) Thai police Friday charged Viktor Bout, 41, one of the world’s most notorious weapons traffickers who was arrested here Thursday, with arms dealing in Thailand, postponing his anticipated extradition to the United States. “If he is found guilty of the charge he will spend two to 10 years in jail here,” said Lieutenant-General Adisorn Nonsri, Commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau.

But other police sources said the charges were expected to be dismissed in court, paving the way for Bout’s extradition to the US where he has been charged with conspiracy to sell weapons worth millions of dollars to Colombian rebels, according to the US Justice Department.

“The US has been chasing this man for almost a decade,” Adisorn told a press conference.

Acting on a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Thai police arrested Bout Thursday at the Sofitel Silom Hotel in Bangkok hours after he arrived from Moscow.

“We have warrants for Mr Bout and we do intend to extradite him,” said Thomas Pasquarello, the Bangkok-based regional director for the DEA. “He’s called the Merchant of Death and the Man of War for a reason,” Pasquarello told the press conference.

In Washington, the Justice Department said Bout’s arrest was the result of close cooperation between US and Thai authorities. The United States said they would seek his extradition.

Adisorn said he had yet to receive an extradition request from Russia. He added that negotiations on Bout’s extradition would need to await the outcome of Thai charges against the Russian.

The charges Bout faces in the US stem from a sting operation in which he and an accomplice allegedly agreed to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is designated a terrorist organization in the United States.

Bout and Andrew Smulian offered to sell and deliver surface-to-air missiles, helicopters and armour-piercing rocket launchers in a series of phone calls and emails to two DEA informants posing as FARC members.

Bout and Smulian were apparently led to Thailand by the informants to close the deal and were arrested by Thai police, the DEA said.

Thai police are hunting for Smulian, said Adisorn.

A former officer in the Soviet army, Bout has since become one of the most notorious arms dealers in the world, accused of selling weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan and to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Bout has denied the past charges.

Bout and Smulian face up to 15 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The charges were unsealed Thursday in a New York federal court.

The 2005 movie “Lord of War”, starring Nicholas Cage, was supposedly inspired by Bout, and the 2007 book “Merchant of Death - Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible” is an expose of his life.

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