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17 Mar, 2008 06:29

‘Merchant of Death’ hits out at ‘unlawful’ arrest

Lawyers representing suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout have told journalists in Thailand his arrest was unlawful. Bout was arrested on March 6 in a joint police operation led by the U.S., and is being held in a Bangkok jail accused of being one of

He's wanted by the United States, which officially requested his extradition from Thailand on Friday. Washington is seeking Bout's extradition on charges of illegal weapons deals with militant groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile a Russian lawyer has arrived in Thailand to assist his Thai colleague in preparing all the necessary documents. He repeated his client is innocent.

“We’d like to point out that Mr Bout has declared himself innocent. He doesn’t consider himself guilty. He considers his arrest unlawful and groundless and he doesn’t consider himself guilty of any illegal action either in Thailand or anywhere else in the world,” said Yan Dasgupta, Bout's lawyer.

Bout has said he would like to be tried in Thailand.

Perhaps this is because if he is tried in Thailand he would receive a maximum 10 years in prison while if extradited and convicted in the United States, the Russian businessman could face up to 15 years in jail.

“He was doing everything in his power including physical resistance not to fly to the U.S. This kind of approach of certain governmental officials to our mind is unlawful and we consider that any issue of my client being extradited to the U.S. can be resolved exclusively based on the Thai law,” added Dasgupta.

The United States considers Bout to be one of the greatest threats to the country’s interests.

In 2006 U.S. President George W. Bush ordered that Bout's assets be frozen, as well as barring Americans from dealing with him. But despite the many allegations against him, Bout has never been prosecuted.

A Thai court denied bail to Viktor Bout, saying he was a flight risk. So Bout will remain in custody in Bangkok until local officials decide they have enough evidence to try him on Thai soil.

Under Thai law, Bout can be jailed for 84 days without being charged.

Bout's wife also believes the charges against her husband are fabricated and is appealing to the Russian Foreign Minister to intervene.

Lawyer Viktor Burobin representing Bout is seeking to return him to his home country.

“We think Russia is a civilised and strong state today, so to review the actions of any Russian citizen on our territory and we will insist on returning Mr Bout to Russia,” said Burobin.