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6 Oct, 2010 08:06

Bout’s defense fight to delay extradition

Thailand says it's moving closer to a decision on whether alleged Russian gun-smuggler Viktor Bout should be extradited to the US.

The country's Prime Minister said the hand-over period could last more than three months, if it is deemed necessary. Bout will remain in a Thai jail until his legal team appeals the latest verdict.As a Thai court ruling clears the way for Bout's possible extradition, his relatives and lawyers fear for his life and say they will file an appeal that is likely to delay the process.Earlier a Thai court has denied an application for the extradition of Russian citizen Viktor Bout to the United States within the second criminal case against him.The court cited that the documents submitted by the United States were insufficient to continue proceedings and ruled not to extradite Bout to the USA.This, however, paves way for his extradition within the first case, which has been stalled due to the second set of charges being considered.It is still unclear what further steps Bout’s defense will undertake.Washington wants Bout on charges of terrorism and supplying arms to Colombian rebels. The Russian businessman has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and says the charges against him are politically-motivated.Bout's wife believes Washington is planning to force a confession out of him.“It's quite possible they will extradite him and lock him up in some aircraft carrier and force him to give whatever testimony the US wants him to give. I think they'll go as far as it takes to get it,” Alla Bout said. “And I’m sure everyone understands there are plenty of ways to do it these days, starting with chemicals and psychological pressure.” "Of course, he had the drive and quite an outstanding talent to organize and run business,” said Bout’s brother Sergey. “That's why it was great working with him.”Viktor’s brother doesn’t understand what is driving the American push against him.“"They are making a monster out of him,” he said. “If you think about it, Viktor has been out of the business for over ten years. What sort of secret information can he possibly possess? He has not been out of the country and he hasn’t talked to any of his partners for the past ten years. He was out of the business. He couldn’t work anymore because everywhere he went the US government tried to obstruct his work. I guess the US special service has sunk pretty low."Now those closest to Bout question if true justice is even a possibility."I think there is nothing left of American democracy today,” Sergey Bout stated. “The US regime is the same or worse than Stalin’s reign was. Any action is depicted as a patriotic act. Everything is classified. They have secret prisons where they torture people and inject them with some chemicals to extract information. They are willing to resort to any means to get what they want."Now, with the possibility of Viktor Bout’s extradition growing closer to reality those who remain convinced of his innocence are still keeping up the fight.“We are still hoping Viktor will be freed,” his brother told RT. “We believe he might be. It’s hard for regular people like us to fight the US machine. Look at them and look at us. What do we have to back us up? It’s like an ant fighting an elephant. It’s hard for us to get through this. We are hoping for justice but we haven’t seen any in the past three years.”Some believe influential officials in Washington want Bout in jail to justify millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that went into the seven years of a Viktor Bout chase and into the seemingly elaborate sting operation that landed the Russian businessman in a Thai courtroom.Bout's lawyer Lak Nitiwatvichan, who received part of his education in America, has previously spoken about the injustice that would occur if the extradition takes place.“Everything I was taught about justice many years ago in New York seems to be totally forgotten by the American side in this case. I believe that Viktor Bout has no chance of a fair trial in the US,” said the lawyer in an interview last year.According to Brian Johnston-Thomas, a former UN arms trafficking expert, Viktor Bout may well be guilty of illegal arms dealing in Africa and the Middle East, but he was obviously innocent in the arms smuggling case he was detained for. Besides, if Bout is extradited to the United States, his defense will never be allowed to bring up the fact that he has several times been of use to the Pentagon.“It’s unlikely that his defense team will be able to bring into evidence that he has on occasion been of assistance both to the Pentagon and to other NATO countries in providing aircraft. See, my concern always has been not that Viktor is necessarily innocent of all charges, but that the sting operation is something that he didn’t do. Quite clearly, it’s a sting operation, and he’s not the merchant of death which the media portray him as. Or I would say he’s the merchant of some death… He’s never been tried on any of the allegations which relate to things he may have done in Africa and the Middle East in previous times. I don’t think the way to deal with people like Viktor is by the elaborate sting operation which the Drug Enforcement Administration launched against him,” Johnston-Thomas said.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia does not intend to negotiate with the United States over the fate of Viktor Bout.Further, Moscow expects the US not to interfere in the Thai court's weighing of Bout's case, Lavrov said.The idea that the US and Russia have to agree between themselves about Bout's case is outside the legal field, he added.