|08-11-2009, 12:01 PM||#1|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: south of town
Thai Ruling on Suspected Arms Dealer Shocks U.S.
BANGKOK — A Thai court stunned American officials here on Tuesday by rejecting the extradition of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman and suspected global arms trafficker accused of agreeing to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to agents posing as Colombian rebels intending to kill American pilots patrolling in the drug war. A three-judge panel said that the case did not fall under Thailand’s extradition treaty with the United States on two grounds. One, the country recognizes the rebels — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — as a political organization, not a terrorist group. Two, on the charge that Mr. Bout was conspiring to kill American citizens, one of the judges, Jitakorn Patanasiri, said, “A Thai court cannot judge a case regarding aliens killing aliens outside of Thailand.”
Viktor Bout was escorted from a courthouse in Bangkok on Tuesday after a judge refused a request that he be extradited to face arms trafficking charges in the United States.
Thai government prosecutors, acting as proxies for their American counterparts, immediately said they would appeal. Mr. Bout would only be freed if an appeal was not filed within 72 hours.
James Entwistle, a diplomat in the United States Embassy in Bangkok, said he was “disappointed and mystified” by the decision. “We think the facts of the case, our extradition treaty and the relevant Thai law all clearly support extraditing Viktor Bout to the United States to stand trial on serious terrorism charges,” he said.
Mr. Bout has denied any links to arms trafficking and told the judge during the proceedings earlier this year that he was being held in “extremely inhumane” conditions.
After the ruling was read, Mr. Bout, 42, hugged his wife, and shook hands with his two lawyers. But he said little to reporters in the courtroom. “I’m not allowed to say anything,” he said.
Wearing a soiled red-orange prison uniform and rusty leg irons that clanked across the courtroom floor, Mr. Bout hardly fit his accuser’s portrayal of him as one of the world’s most notorious weapons traffickers — or the Nicholas Cage character he supposedly inspired in the 2005 film “Lord of War.”
According to legal papers, Mr. Bout told undercover agents for the Drug Enforcement Administration that he could deliver 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 assault weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, land mines, C-4 explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, and that the weapons would be airdropped into the jungles of Colombia “with great accuracy.”
Thai officials say they have come under pressure from both Russia and the United States over the case. The United States and Thailand are longstanding allies, and former President George W. Bush emphasized the importance of the case during a visit to Thailand in August 2008.
Judge Jitakorn prefaced the reading of the decision with what sounded like an apology, “Today there must be someone happy and someone sad.” The reading of the decision took so long — more than an hour — that Judge Jitakorn gestured to Mr. Bout to sit down halfway through.
Mr. Bout’s lawyer, Chamroen Panompakakorn, said the appeals process was likely to last six months “at least, probably more.”
Mark McDonald contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
Thats messed up - the U.S. thought they had him.