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12 Mar, 2008 15:55

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

Russia's ambassador to Thailand says Bout is being treated well.

According to Bout’s Thai lawyer, Lak Nitiwatanaviachan, his client pleads not guilty. The lawyer says first of all they would like to get all the accusations, which, he says have ‘too many details’.  

The ‘Merchant of death’ 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.  

Meantime, Thai officials are deciding whether they will be able to gather enough evidence to prosecute him.  

The Russian diplomats are monitoring the situation and the conditions Bout is being kept in. The Russian Consul in Thailand, Vladimir Pronin, has visited Bout. He said that a Russian lawyer will arrive in Bangkok to assist his Thai colleague in the defence process.  

As to whether Russia will seek the extradition of Viktor Bout from Thailand, there are conflicting reports.

Interfax news agency quoted a high-ranking official from the Russian security agencies as saying “prosecutors here have no evidence against the businessman”.

Bout’s wife has written a letter to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, asking him to do everything possible to get her husband out of prison and to extradite him back to Russia.

However, Moscow’s position on the matter remains unclear.

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.

Meantime, Bout’s brother says he’s 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 said.