Angry Russia vows to bring alleged arms dealer home

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Russia on Friday slammed a Thai court verdict to extradite alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the United States, saying Moscow would do all it could to bring him home.

The Russian foreign ministry complained that the decision by a Thai appeals court was the result of pressure from the United States and summoned the Thai ambassador to express its "extreme disappointment and bewilderment".

"We regret what is in my opinion an unjust decision, a political decision that the appeals court in Thailand has taken," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a visit to Armenia in comments broadcast on Russian state television.

In a thinly veiled reference to the United States, he added: "This decision, according to the information that we have, was taken under very strong pressure from the outside. This is sad."

"I assure you that we will continue to do everything necessary to obtain his return to the motherland."

Lavrov described Bout as a "Russian citizen" and said that Russian officials had over the last months provided him with assistance and had been in contact with his lawyers and family.

The Thai court granted a request by the United States to extradite Bout, dubbed the "Merchant of Death", on terrorism charges.

The ministry said in a statement later that Thai ambassador Chalermpol Thanchitt "was invited" for a meeting with Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin.

The Russian side made clear its "extreme disappointment and bewilderment about the politically motivated verdict of the Thai appeals court", it said.

It noted that the decision contradicted an earlier decision by a lower Thai court in August 2009 that had blocked the extradition "owing to insufficient evidence from the American side".

Russia has consistently opposed Bout's extradition to the United States and also hit out at the media's presentation of him, emphasising that he is yet to be convicted.

The foreign ministry said last year that the media attacks on Bout were aimed at moving the case into the political realm with the aim of harming improving US-Russian relations.

Bout's Russian lawyer Viktor Burobin told Interfax that the legal process was now exhausted and the only way to halt the extradition would be through a decision at a political level.

He said this could take the form of a swap of detainees, like the exchange of convicted spies carried out by Russia and the United States in July to end a potentially damaging espionage scandal.

"We are very glad that the (Russian) state is caring. But what can be done? There is no legal means... I can only imagine an operation with so-called spies or something of that kind."

In a separate interview, the lawyer told Moscow Echo radio that the process to extradite Bout would take around three months.

He said the allegations against Bout were a "de-facto political accusation of Russia over illegal arms trading."

"America does not believe us, America does not send us the documents but does it itself, because it considers itself to be a policeman who now has the right to pass judgement over our citizens," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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