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12 Mar, 2008 05:10

Custody extended for Russian ‘gunrunner’

Viktor Bout, the Russian nicknamed the ‘Merchant of Death’ for his alleged arms dealing, will remain in a Thai prison for at least 12 days after officials granted an extension. America, and possibly Russia, want to extradite him. He’s been accused of supp

Viktor Bout has been dubbed the Merchant of Death for his alleged role while Smulian has failed to enter a plea so far.
Bout and Smulian could face charges of attempting to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to Colombia’s FARC movement. According to Bout’s Thai lawyer, his client pleads not guilty.

“He [the judge] gave the reason to rip up my petition, because he is afraid that the accused will escape away from the case if he is allowed,” Lak Nitiwatanaviachan, the lawyer, said.

Bout is being held in the high security area of what’s commonly known as the Bangkok Hilton – the most notorious prison in Thailand. That, according to Thai officials, is because Bout is well-trained in combat and is familiar with weapons.

For the next ten days he will be held in custody, which will give Thai officials time to decide whether they will be able to gather enough evidence to prosecute him.

Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports as to whether Russia will seek the extradition of Viktor Bout from Thailand. Interfax news agency quotes a high-ranking official from the Russian security agencies as saying “prosecutors here have no evidence against the businessman”.

Bout has long been followed by the CIA and it was the U.S. who requested his arrest by Thai police.

However, Thailand does not seem to have enough evidence to try Viktor Bout.

That is the reason why the U.S. wants him extradited for trial on American soil. According to officials at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, the extradition request has already been lodged but it may take a long time.

Bout himself insists he should be tried in Thailand. One of the reasons for that, perhaps, is if convicted in Bangkok, Bout will face a maximum of up to 10 years in prison and $US 6,000 fine, whilst in the U.S. the sentence would be a lot more severe.

The arrests in Thailand and in the U.S. suggest the size of the U.S. operation is far larger than many first thought. It appears the U.S. is leading large-scale efforts to bring down the international chain involving Bout and his alleged accomplices.

Meantime, some believe Bout is being used as a scapegoat.
“The same thing happened before the war in Afghanistan, the same thing happens before the war in Yugoslavia, and the same thing happen before the campaign in Iraq. Now we are seeing another conflict simmering on in Columbia. My brother is like a scarecrow which is used to scare people off and to divert media attention from far more serious things,” Sergey Bout, Viktor’s brother, said.

Bout – rival of Russian government?

Leonid Ivashov, from the Academy of Geopolitical Studies in Moscow, believes Bout may have been arrested because he was competing with governmental agencies.

“Bout has never represented Russia in any official way. In fact, since the new Russia was formed there have been governmental agencies selling weapons – Rosoboronexport and Rosvooruzhenie, to name two. Those selling weapons illegally were their direct competitors, so it's not incidental that Bout has been a target of Russia's law enforcement agencies,” said Mr Ivashov.