Thais to Extradite Arms Suspect to U.S.

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BANGKOK — A Thai court on Friday ordered the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman suspected of running a massive arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.

The decision, which overturns a lower court’s ruling in August 2009, is a victory for the Obama administration, which this week summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to the State Department to “emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States,” a spokesman said.

U.S. prosecutors say Mr. Bout, 43, commanded a fleet of aircraft to send weapons to rebel groups and warring countries around the world. He was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation two years ago.

Mr. Bout stood after the ruling was announced and embraced his wife and daughter, who wept. He said nothing to reporters in the courtroom as he was being led out in leg irons and an orange prison uniform. The court ordered his extradition within three months.

Mr. Bout’s lawyers had argued that the request to extradite Mr. Bout was part of a pattern of the United States reaching beyond its borders to punish its enemies. Chamroen Panompakakorn, Mr. Bout’s principal lawyer, alluded to the rendition of suspected terrorists by the U.S. government and argued that the overall credibility of the United States government had been tarnished following the failed search for weapons of mass destruction Iraq.

A panel of judges in August 2009 sided with the defense and wrote in their decision that Mr. Bout’s “guilt cannot be determined in Thailand.”

The court on Friday did not contradict this but said there was enough evidence to extradite Mr. Bout to the United States.

“This case has to be further pursued in a court in the United States that has jurisdiction,” said Siripan Kobkaew, one of three judges who read parts of the decision on Friday.

Mr. Bout’s notoriety helped spawn the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” and his arms dealings are detailed in “Merchant of Death,” a book by two American journalists who describe Mr. Bout’s dealings as falling into a “legal gray area that global jurisprudence has simply failed to proscribe.” Mr. Bout has delivered weapons into Africa and Afghanistan, among other places, but has also flown missions for the U.S. Pentagon in Iraq and the United Nations. Sometimes Mr. Bout was hired to fly in arms to a particular group, the authors note, and then was paid by the U.N. to deliver humanitarian aid to the same area.

Mr. Bout was arrested in March 2008 at a hotel in Bangkok after agreeing to sell millions of dollars worth of arms to undercover agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It remains unclear why Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand. Initially Mr. Bout’s lawyers submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family suggesting his visit had something to do with the country’s powerful monarchy. Many witnesses were never called. Mr. Chamroen, the lawyer, also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

If Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand to take part in a royal-related project his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by U.S. officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government and the royal family. This might help explain Thailand’s initial reluctance to extradite Mr. Bout and the unusually lengthy hearing process.

A Thai naval officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified during the hearing that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines.

The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court but Capt. Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a ruse by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

The case has put Thailand in the awkward position of referee between Russia and the United States. Thailand is one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia but Bangkok’s relations with Russia have warmed considerably since the end of the Cold War. The country’s beach resorts have become a major draw for Russian tourists looking to escape the long winters.

The case has offered a window into the scale of arms trafficking. During the meeting in March 2008, Mr. Bout told the undercover U.S. agents that he could deliver 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 assault weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, land mines, C-4 explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the U.S. indictment.

United States prosecutors filed fresh charges against Mr. Bout in February alleging that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, sought to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in 2007 using front companies. The sale was in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions and was blocked.


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It appears that Mr. Bout could use a different lawyer. Perhaps he could contact that slimeball Roman Polanski for a referral?

Regardless, it's actually nice (and unusual) to see a country honor an extradition treaty. On the other hand, given what I think of the Thai government and how money or the color of your shirt can make all problems go away, I'll only really believe it when Bout gets to the US.

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