Kremlin Seething as Putin loses another Battle

The Independent reports:

An alleged arms dealer nicknamed “The Merchant of Death”, who has been pursued by global law enforcement organisations for years, is to be extradited to the US to stand trial.

The news comes amid allegations that the authorities in Thailand succumbed to persistent pressure from Washington.

A court in Bangkok ruled that the Viktor Bout, a Russian who prosecutors say sold guns to dictators and militants in war zones across Africa, South America and the Middle East, should be sent to the US to face charges that he tried to sell arms to outlawed Colombian rebels.

Wearing leg irons and an orange prison jumpsuit, the 43-year-old Russian, whose exploits have inspired Hollywood movies, vowed to prove his innocence.

“We will face the trial in the US and win it,” he told reporters in Russian. Hugging his wife and fighting back tears, he was then led from the courtroom. His wife Alla declared: “This is the most unfair decision possible.”

Yet the courtroom drama over the extradition of a man suspected of selling arms to everyone from Liberia’s Charles Taylor to Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has been overshadowed by a heated row between the US and Russia, both of which had been lobbying the Thai authorities.

While the US wanted the former Russian military translator to be sent to America for trial, Moscow urged that he be released from the maximum security prison he has been held in for two years and allowed to return to Russia.

Mr Bout, said to be the inspiration behind the 2005 film Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage, has been held in Thailand since he was arrested two years ago in a joint US-Thai sting operation in which agents posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). Held on an Interpol warrant, the US had argued that he be extradited to face terrorism charges.

Underlining the US’s determination that he be sent for trial, the State Department this week summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to “emphasise how important this judgment is”. The US ambassador in Thailand made similar requests to the Thai foreign ministry. Thailand is a regional ally of the US and receives millions of dollars in aid from Washington. Indeed, the court had asked for a report on the political implications of releasing the prisoner.

Against such a backdrop, Russia reacted with anger, describing the Thai court judgment as “unlawful and political”. Without referring specifically to the US, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said the decision to overturn a lower court’s previous decision that had rejected extradition “was made under very strong pressure”. He added: “This is lamentable. I assure you that we will continue to do all that is necessary to ensure his return to his homeland.”

Though he has always denied the claim, Mr Bout is widely considered one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, selling to both governments and rebels – and sometimes supplying arms to both participants in a conflict at the same time. The head of a lucrative air transport empire, he has long evaded efforts by the US and UN to freeze his assets and stop him travelling. He has always insisted he runs a legitimate business. The full circumstances of Bout’s arrest in 2008 in Thailand – he was seized in a luxury Bangkok hotel – remain unclear. He was detained by US agents posing as arms buyers for Farc, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Washington, and indicted on four charges related to terrorism.

He had allegedly offered to sell the left-wing Colombian organisation more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of guns, high-tech helicopters and aeroplanes fitted with grenade launchers and missiles.

But other witnesses told the court that Mr Bout had been in Thailand in connection with a project involving a Russian submarine.

The New York Times reported that Thai intelligence officials said he was part of a deal to provide Thailand with a small but sophisticated nuclear submarine, to be named in honour of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s monarch. When this hearing began, Mr Bout’s lawyer submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family and also presented copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia. Any revelations that were in anyway embarrassing for the country’s royal family would be hugely awkward for the Thai government.

Experts have said that the decision by the court in Bangkok represents a considerable victory for the US and an embarrassment for Moscow. Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Russian military analyst, told the Associated Press that Mr Bout was a “prize catch” who could provide military intelligence, not only on Russia, but other former Soviet states where he operated.

Yet Lak Nittiwattanawichan, Mr Bout’s lawyer, said he would keep fighting. “I am going to submit a request to the ministry of foreign affairs and the cabinet,” he said. “I will also submit a request to the King and Queen.”

The alleged clients

According to the indictment issued by the United States, Viktor Bout assembled a fleet of cargo aircraft to transport weapons to Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Liberia

US prosecutors say the former Liberia dictator Charles Taylor was one of his clients. A United Nations report said that Bout supported Taylor’s regime to “destabilise Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds”. Taylor is now on trial for war crimes. As a result of his alleged weapons trafficking in Liberia, the US ordered Bout’s assets to be frozen under its jurisdiction, and banned any US citizen from having financial dealings with him.

Angola

Bout has been accused of supplying both sides in Angola’s long and brutal civil war that ended only in 2002. A report to the UN said that Bout controlled an organisation that broke international embargoes on Angola. Such an operation required a network that was “well-funded, well-connected and well-versed in brokering and logistics, with the ability to move illicit cargo around the world without raising the suspicions of the law”.

Afghanistan

Bout told Channel 4 News he flew arms to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He claimed that the weapons were for commanders fighting the Taliban.

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4 responses to “Kremlin Seething as Putin loses another Battle

  1. @Bout told Channel 4 News he flew arms to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He claimed that the weapons were for commanders fighting the Taliban.

    According to Belgian intelligence documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Bout earned $50 million in profit for selling weapons to the Taliban in the late 1990s. Another European intelligence source independently verified the sales, and intelligence documents from an African country in which Bout operates — obtained by the Center — claim that Bout ran guns for the Taliban “on behalf of the Pakistan government.”

    The intelligence documents were produced before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that triggered the U.S. war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. They do not specify the type or amounts of weapons sold to the Taliban, other than that they were from stocks of the former Soviet Union.

    The Center’s findings — part of a larger investigation into the commerce of war by its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to be published later this year — establish no direct links between Bout and bin Laden. But the Taliban’s ties to al Qaeda would have enabled weapons shipped to Afghanistan to make their way to bin Laden’s forces. Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office Minister for Europe who has led the international effort to expose criminal networks behind the conflict diamonds and small arms trade in Africa, said in an interview that the danger posed by Bout was clear in his supply of weapons to the Taliban “and to its ally, Osama bin Laden.”

    U.N. monitors have accused Bout of shipping contraband weapons to rebel movements in Angola and Sierra Leone and to the rogue regime of Charles Taylor in Liberia. Bout and his associates operate, or have operated, in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland and Uganda, according to reports by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and non-governmental organizations. Intelligence documents obtained by ICIJ and interviews conducted with many of those following the global trade in arms further support the allegations against Bout.

    “The murder and mayhem of UNITA in Angola, the RUF in Sierra Leone and groups in the Congo would not have been as terrible without Bout’s operations,” Hain told the ICIJ in an interview. He called Bout “Africa’s chief merchant of death.”

    Bout’s empire today is a maze of individuals and companies, which employ some 300 people and own and operate 40 to 60 aircraft, including the largest private fleet of Antonov cargo planes in the world, according to the ICIJ investigation. Bout has long-standing ties to Afghanistan, but his links to the Taliban have been a closely guarded secret.

  2. Another example of the U.S. bullying a weaker country like thailand using debt as leverage to influence decisions. The original decision was against extradiction and then suddenly it changed as soon as the U.S. mentioned the loans they hand out to thailand.
    He may have sold to terrorists and dictators, but it would be an act of hypocricy for the U.S. to even call other leaders dictators and terrorists

    LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS:

    So true! Of course, American power is such that every country on the planet is weaker . . .

    But Americans should look to the way Russia deals with Ukraine and Georgia and Belarus. No bullying there! Just ask any citizen of those countries . . .

    • @He may have sold to terrorists and dictators, but it would be an act of hypocricy for the U.S. to even call other leaders dictators and terrorists

      Yes, they should start with Putin, instad of calling Lukashenko “the last dictator” and what not.

      I’m still waiting for them to drop such double standards. After all Lukashenko killed just no one, while Putin killed thousands.

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