Thai court rules to extradite alleged Russian arms dealer
A Thai appeals court on Friday ruled to extradite suspected arms dealer Viktor Bout to the US, overturning a previous decision by a lower court.
Bout, after hearing the verdict, hugged his wife Alla and their daughter, both of whom were in tears, DPA reported.
The court said Bout, dubbed the Merchant of Death by his critics, must be extradited within three months, or else be permitted to go free, in keeping with Thailand's extradition rules.
"This verdict has damaged our relations with another country," Bout's lawyer Lak Nittiwattanawichan said. "The US government has interfered with our judicial system," he said.
Russia has pleaded with Thai authorities for Bout's freedom, claiming there was no proof that the former Soviet air force officer was an arms dealer.
His alleged exploits inspired the 2005 Hollywood movie Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage.
Bout, 44, has been imprisoned since his arrest in Bangkok in March 2008, when he was caught in a sting operation led by US agents who posed as arms buyers for a leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
He was indicted in the US for attempting to sell weapons to a terrorist group and Washington sought his extradition to face charges.
The Bangkok Criminal Court last year rejected the extradition request, claiming Thailand deemed FARC a political group, not terrorists, and Thai law prohibits extradition for political offences.
Prosecutors appealed the verdict.
The Bangkok Appeal Court ruled that Bout had engaged in criminal activities, not political ones, and thus should be extradited.
Public prosecutors had submitted a new case against Bout for money-laundering, in case the appeal court upheld the lower court's ruling.
It was not clear whether the prosecutors would now drop that case, which was accepted by the Criminal Court Friday.