Thursday, March 06, 2008

Viktor, We Hardly Knew Ya!

Not too long ago I did a posting on our man Viktor Bout, aka The Merchant of Death. As a current blood diamond miner and a former Russian sociopath myself, his life story really caught my eye. But it seems Viktor has finally completed his search for self-destruction:

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai authorities detained notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, as US officials said Friday they will seek his extradition over conspiring to sell millions of dollars in weapons.

The Russian was arrested in a luxury hotel room in Bangkok on Thursday in an elaborate sting operation in which US agents posed as Marxist Colombian rebels seeking an arsenal of modern weapons.

Thomas Pasquarello, regional director for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, told a press conference here that the United States wanted to prosecute Bout on charges of aiding terrorists.

"He's called the Merchant of Death and the Man of War for a reason," Pasquarello said. "We have warrants for Mr Bout and we do intend to extradite him," he said.

But Thai police told the same press conference that Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death" for his alleged role in arming rebels from Africa to South America, could face trial in Thailand.

Russia also plans to seek his extradition while Belgium has worked for years to capture him through the international police agency Interpol.

A beefy man with sharp blue eyes, Bout was escorted by 15 police and heavily armed commandos as he was paraded in handcuffs Friday before the media.

Wearing an orange polo shirt and khaki pants, the Russian sat stony-faced and silent as Thai police spoke about his legal fate.

He has throughout the years allegedly helped arm Afghanistan's Taliban militia, Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, Marxist rebels in South America and former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor.

The 41-year-old suspect -- whose dealings inspired the arms smuggling movie "Lord of War" starring Nicholas Cage -- was captured Thursday just hours after arriving in Bangkok on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow, Thai police said.

Deputy commissioner of Thailand's Central Investigation Bureau, Surapol Tuanthong, told reporters that prosecutors would first decide whether Bout could face trial in Bangkok on charges of aiding terrorists.

If convicted, he could spend 10 years in a Thai prison.

"If the attorney general decides there is not enough evidence to prosecute him in Thailand, they will not bring the case to court. The US DEA could take Viktor Bout back to the US," he added.

So far, the United States is the only country to formally request his extradition, Surapol said.

Bout and his close associate Andrew Smulian are wanted in the United States on charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

They could face up to 15 years in jail if extradited to the United States and convicted.

Mystery surrounded the fate of Smulian, with Thai police saying that they were still searching for him, while the DEA's Pasquarello said cryptically that "he is not in custody in Thailand."

Bout was arrested after DEA sources set up several meetings with Smulian in Romania, Denmark and the Dutch West Indies to discuss a deal, according to a previously sealed complaint released by New York prosecutors.

During the meetings, agents recorded telephone calls to Bout in which he discussed shipping an arsenal of deadly weapons, including helicopters, armour-piercing rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.

A former Soviet air force officer who was born in 1967, Bout was dubbed the "Merchant of Death" by former British government minister Peter Hain due to his involvement in supplying arms to Liberia and Angola.

In March last year, US Treasury Department imposed sanctions against seven companies accused of fueling the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the start of the decade. Three of the companies were linked to Bout.

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