A Thai court on Friday ordered the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman suspected of running a large-scale arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.
Russia, which had been seeking to prevent Bout from being placed in the American legal system, reacted angrily to the ruling.
Prosecutors in the United States say 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.
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.
Bout’s lawyers had argued that the extradition request was part of a pattern of the United States reaching beyond its borders to punish its enemies. Chamroen Panompakakorn, Bout’s principal lawyer, alluded to the rendition of suspected terrorists by the American government and argued that the overall credibility of the United States government had been tarnished after the failed search for weapons of mass destruction Iraq.
A panel of judges in August 2009 sided with the defense and decided that Bout’s guilt could not be determined in a Thailand court. The court on Friday did not contradict this but said there was enough evidence to extradite Bout to the United States.
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 Bout’s dealings as falling into a “legal gray area that global jurisprudence has simply failed to proscribe.”
Bout has allegedly delivered weapons into Africa and Afghanistan, among other places, but has also supposedly flown missions for the Pentagon in Iraq and the United Nations. Sometimes Bout was hired to fly in arms to a particular group, the authors note, and then was paid by the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid to the same area.
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 United States Drug Enforcement Administration posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
It remains unclear why Bout traveled to Thailand. 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.
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 its relations with Russia have also warmed considerably since the end of the Cold War. Thai 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, Bout allegedly told the undercover American 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 remotely piloted aerial vehicles, according to the United States indictment.
United States prosecutors filed fresh charges against Bout in February alleging that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, sought to purchase two aircraft from American companies in 2007 using front companies. The sale was in violation of United States and United Nations sanctions and was blocked.
Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.
The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at one of the offices listed above.