'Merchant of Death' appeals Thai court ruling: lawyer

8th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Friday appealed against a Thai court ruling that removed a major obstacle to his extradition to the United States, his lawyer said.

Thailand's Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed money-laundering and fraud charges against Bout that had been holding up his extradition, citing insufficient evidence.

In an apparent delaying tactic, Bout's lawyer Lak Nittiwattanawichan said he had submitted an appeal against the decision, partly on the grounds that the Criminal Court did not allow witnesses to testify.

Lak voiced confidence that Thailand's Appeal Court would agree to hear the case involving Bout, once described by a British government minister as the "Merchant of Death".

The Appeal Court in August ordered Bout be handed over to Washington on terrorism charges, angering Russia, but the process has been held up by technicalities over the new accusations.

Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot, was arrested in 2008 after a sting operation in Bangkok involving undercover US agents posing as Colombian FARC rebels.

He has repeatedly denied suggestions that he was a former KGB agent and maintains that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.

Bout has maintained his innocence from the day he was detained in the Thai capital after allegedly agreeing to supply surface-to-air missiles in a series of covert meetings that also took him to Denmark and Romania.

Washington, which has described Bout as "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers," has lobbied hard for his extradition. The case has put Thailand in a difficult diplomatic spot between the United States and Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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