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13 Mar, 2008 08:54

U.S. pushes for "Merchant of Death” extradition

The trial location for Viktor Bout, the Russian dubbed the ‘Merchant of Death’, is still up in the air, with suggestions that the U.S. has sent an official to Thailand to push for his extradition. Bout is being held in Thailand where he’s accused of suppl

Thai prosecutors have around 70 days to gather enough evidence to prove Bout was connected to – or dealing with – local extremist movements such as the Jemaah Islamiyah.

Should the alleged gunrunner be proved guilty – his stay at the so-called Bangkok Hilton, one of the world's most notorious prisons, would be extended by a maximum of 10 years.

But Viktor Bout’s lawyer, Lak Nitiwatanaviachan, doubts the evidence. Bout denies all the allegations against him.

Friends and family are all rallying to help – with Bout's wife even writing a letter of appeal to the Russian Foreign Minister.

Meantime Russian security officials say Moscow will not seek Viktor Bout’s extradition, since there is no criminal case against him in the country. 

Viktor Bout’s brother believes he is being used as a scapegoat.

“The same thing happened before the war in Afghanistan. The same thing happened before the war in Yugoslavia and the same thing happened before the campaign in Iraq. Now we see another conflict simmering in Columbia. My brother is used like a scarecrow – to scare people off, to draw attention from far more serious things,” Sergey Bout said.

U.S. officials, however, believe they have enough evidence to prove the Russian is nothing less that one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers.

And the arrest of Bout's partner in New York Andrew Smulian suggests the scope of the operation is much larger than it was originally thought.