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10 Aug, 2009 15:40

Thai court in Bout’s case between a rock and a hard place

A court in Thailand is set to rule on whether to extradite to the US Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman known as the “Merchant of Death.” But his fate is far from certain.

Washington believes that Bout is the biggest gun runner in modern history, helping to fuel wars and armed conflicts around the globe. Alla Bout, his wife, never expected the Thai capital would become her second home. She is there almost all the time to visit her husband, who has been behind bars in Bangkok since March og last year.

“It’s all absolute lies,” the woman told RT. “This label was created mainly by the US media and by certain people who want to get rid of my husband. They haven’t proved anything yet, but have already created a monster in the papers. Even if they claim that my husband was selling flying saucers to Martians, it seems many would believe it.”

Bout says he was on vacation when was detained in Thailand. But Washington believes he was negotiating a deal to sell missiles to Colombian terrorists.

“He was apprehended in the final stages of arranging the sale of millions of dollars of high-powered weapons to people he believed to represent the known terrorist organization FARC,” claimed a US attorney for New York’s Southern District, Michael J. Garcia.

But that’s not where the accusations end. Investigators in the United States believe Bout is the biggest gun runner in modern history. He is accused of supplying weapons to just about every military conflict in the world since the 1980s, from Liberia to Iraq.

Bout's life story is even believed to have inspired the Hollywood film “Lord of War.” But the man in the spotlight has been denying any claims of his illegal activities.

“The UN is not structured or presumed to conduct criminal research or investigation,” Bout said. “In my case, the charges are very general. There's no concrete data: what time, where, what happened. No! They just say he's bad, he is dangerous.”

Now the man behind bars could have his fate sealed. A Bangkok criminal court is to decide if Bout should be extradited or deported.

For almost 18 months Bout has been locked up in one of Bangkok’s high-security prisons. And as the D-Day looms for the Russian, hardly anybody doubts that he will soon leave his temporary home soon. The big question now is: Where to?

Washington demands Bout be sent to the US for trial. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life. But should the Thai court decide to deport him to Russia, he may well walk away a free man, as he is not wanted in his home country. Bout’s 70-year-old lawyer, Lak Nitivat, says it is the hardest case in his career.

“The chance that they will send Mr. Bout back to his hometown, in my view, is over 70 per cent,” Bout’s lawyer told RT. “They accuse him from the US, but they don’t have any witnesses, they don’t have a thing to prove that Mr. Bout has committed anything wrong.”

It may appear to be just a criminal case, but it has political overtones. Bangkok has a tough choice to make – Thailand has strong ties with both Moscow and Washington. So whatever the verdict is, one of them will be upset. And this, according to Bout’s family, makes the already difficult situation even more unpredictable.

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