US must wait for alleged arms baron

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout will not be extradited from Thailand to the United States until at least October 4, his lawyer has said.

This is the date when a Thai court will hold a hearing to drop new American charges against Bout, who has spent more than two years in a Thai prison.

The extradition of Bout to the United States, where he is wanted for arms smuggling, was approved last month. However, hours before the court announced its positive ruling, the American side, afraid they might not get Bout, filed a second set of charges against him, which included charges of money laundering and fraud.

This rules out immediate extradition, because under Thai legislation Bout must now stay in the country until the new proceedings against him are over.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said he supports the idea of holding a thorough investigation and all the necessary court procedures before making a final extradition decision.

“The judicial process over the matter should be completed. I am not sure about how the court would further handle the case,” Abhisit was quoted by The Nation daily. “I need to check out on what factors the court would rely on in further handling it, and what factors the executive would take into consideration,” he said.

The statement was made in response to the letter that Bout recently sent to the premier, asking not to extradite him to the US, where, he said, his welfare and safety would be in danger.

Russian businessman Viktor Bout was detained in Thailand in March 2008 while he was on holiday. American law enforcement agencies have had Bout on their wanted list since 2002 for illegal arms dealing and have been seeking his extradition to the US ever since. Recently, the media even reported Bout’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

However, Bout denies all charges against him, dismissing them as a setup.