'Merchant of Death' writes to Thai PM: lawyer

30th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout submitted a letter from jail to the Thai Prime Minister on Monday opposing his extradition and seeking assurances for his safety, his lawyer said.

Bout's extradition to the United States on terrorism charges, ordered by a Thai court on August 20 but strongly opposed by Russia, has been delayed because of legal complications, Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva said last week.

Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death", has been fighting extradition since his March 2008 arrest after a Bangkok sting operation involving US agents posing as Colombian rebels.

The Russian's lawyer Lak Nittiwattanawichan said he had submitted an 11-page hand-written letter in Thai to Abhisit on Monday, signed by Bout.

"We want the prime minister to provide security because there may be threats (in jail)," Lak told reporters.

"We oppose the extradition because the process is not done according to the law. Bout will not receive justice in the United States and he will not be safe there," he added.

Abhisit said he had not yet received the letter but that he had already ordered security for Bout. During his weekly talk show on Sunday, the Thai premier denied there had been any political interference in the proceedings.

Bout, 43, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted in the United States on charges including conspiracy to kill US nationals and to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

He rejects the charges and says that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.

Washington, which has described Bout as "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers," lobbied hard for his extradition, summoning the Thai ambassador last week to emphasise it was of "the highest priority".

Moscow however has voiced "extreme disappointment" about the planned extradition, saying the decision was politically motivated.

© 2010 AFP

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