Extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer delayed: Thai PM

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The extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the United States has been delayed because of legal complications, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Wednesday.

"It is not today. There are several steps in the legal process," Abhisit told reporters.

Police had said on Tuesday that Bout, who faces terrorism charges, would be escorted from jail on Wednesday to a Bangkok airport, where US authorities had sent a private jet to fly him out.

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

He 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.

A Thai appeals court on Friday ordered the extradition of 43-year-old Bout, despite strong opposition from Russia.

But the process has been held up because of new charges of money-laundering and fraud announced by US prosecutors in February this year, with another court hearing in Thailand set for October 4, according to his lawyer.

Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister in charge of national security, said that the Thai Criminal Court would have to drop those new charges against Bout before he can be handed over to the United States.

"There are new charges that the United States filed and they are still in court, so the prosecutor has to seek court approval to drop them and we don't know what the court's decision will be," he told reporters.

© 2010 AFP

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