Thai court to rule Friday on Russian 'arms dealer': lawyer

18th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Thai appeals court will make a final ruling Friday on whether to extradite alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the United States on terrorism charges, his lawyer said.

Bout, said to have inspired the Hollywood film "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage, has been fighting extradition since his March 2008 arrest in Bangkok in a sting operation involving US agents.

"I have been informed by officials that the court will make a ruling this Friday," his attorney, Lak Nittiwattanawichan, said Wednesday. "Whatever the decision is, we will respect it."

During an undercover operation, Bout allegedly agreed to supply surface-to-air missiles to US anti-drug agents posing as rebels from Colombia's Marxist FARC group, which Washington considers a terrorist organisation.

A Thai criminal court ruled in August 2009 that it did not have the authority to extradite Bout because FARC was not listed as a terrorist group in Thailand -- a decision praised by Moscow.

He faces life in prison if sent to the United States and convicted there on terrorism charges, including conspiracy to kill US officers or employees and conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

A US indictment accuses Bout of using a fleet of cargo planes to transport weapons and military equipment to Africa, South America and the Middle East.

In February, US prosecutors announced new money laundering and fraud charges against him.

Bout, who has been held at a maximum-security prison outside Bangkok, has denied the accusations and says that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.

The 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot is said to speak six languages and go by eight different aliases.

His nickname "Merchant of Death" was coined by a former British foreign office minister and also used for a 2007 book on Bout's alleged activities.

© 2010 AFP

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