Not everything coming out of Cablegate is unflattering. Documents released by WikiLeaks this week have pulled back the curtain on the high-level coordination between the State Department, Department of Justice and the White House to bring alleged arms dealer Victor Bout — the so-called global “merchant of death” — to trial in the United States, including the existence of a dedicated “Bout team” within the U.S. embassy in Bangkok.
Thai authorities had arrested Bout in Bangkok in March of 2008 while he met with informants working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Yet Bout’s extradition proceedings dragged out for more than a year before he was brought to New York to face trial in federal court in Manhattan, where he was charged with four terrorism conspiracy counts related to a DEA sting in Thailand.
After a Thai judge ruled against Bout’s extradition in August of 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand warned the newly endorsed Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of a potentially “major setback” in U.S. relations if “corruption and undue influence” had an impact on the case. Faced with the prospect that Bout could be released and allowed to return to Russia, Ambassador Eric. G. John recommended that both the State Department and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder call in the Thai ambassador to Washington to push for Bout’s extradition. The ambassador also recommended that the governments of Colombia, Sierra Leone and Liberia weigh in on Bout’s case to the Thai government.
Bout had long been in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. Over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, U.N. investigators linked Bout’s fleet of aircraft to arms shipments in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In 2004, President Bush signed an executive order placing sanctions on Bout and his business associates with ties to the United States. Shortly thereafter, Treasury Department officials froze any assets and financial transactions within U.S. jurisdiction through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). However, Bout eluded arrest despite being the subject of a sealed indictment in federal court in New York for violating those U.S. sanctions.
In my opinion, the U.S. government did everything they could possibly do to try to affect the outcome of the extradition process. However, I disapprove of Washington’s strong-arm methods, and needless to say, the cables have been both enlightening and disappointing. It is certainly worrisome to know the extents that the U.S. government went to in order to impact the decision-making process of judicial authorities in another country.
To read the full Time article, please click here.
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.
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