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Russia to request US extradition of notorious arms dealer

The Russian Justice Ministry [official website] announced Thursday that it has filed a formal request with the US government for a copy of the verdict of reputed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who in April was sentenced by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to 25 years in prison [JURIST report]. The request serves as an overture for a larger request that the US extradite the convicted arms dealer to Russia [Reuters report] to serve out his sentence. Bout, 45, was convicted in November [JURIST report] on four counts of conspiracy relating to his proposed sale of anti-aircraft missiles to drug enforcement informants posing as potential buyers for the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [NYT backgrounder], which the US has labeled as a designated foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors had sought the maximum life sentence, portraying Bout as one of the world's worst criminals, a notorious arms dealer who has profited on war-torn nations since the 1990s. The US can refuse the Russian request, since the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons [materials] stipulates that an individual can only be handed over after completion of trial—Bout has maintained his innocence and is preparing an appeal, meaning the judicial process is not over. Bout is currently being held in Marion prison in Illinois.

Bout's trial lasted three weeks, and he was convicted after two days of jury deliberation. Defense counsel accused the US government of entrapment and presented Bout, an ex-Soviet officer and current Russian citizen, as a political prisoner. Russia's foreign ministry has rejected the 25-year sentence, framing the order as political and agenda-driven. Bout pleaded not guilty in November 2010, days after the Thai government extradited him [JURIST reports] to the US to stand trial. A month earlier Bout filed an appeal challenging the Bangkok Criminal Court's decision to dismiss [JURIST reports] money laundering and fraud charges against him, which removed obstacles to his US extradition. According to Bout's lawyer Lak Nitiwatanavichan, the arms dealer was seeking to have these charges reinstated [Bangkok Post report] to avoid extradition to the US. In August of that year an appeals court in Thailand ruled that Bout could be extradited [JURIST report], overturning a decision it issued a year earlier refusing to extradite Bout [JURIST report] on the basis that the accusations made by the US were not cognizable under Thai law. Bout was the subject of the book "Merchant of Death" [Reuters report], which inspired the 2005 movie of the same title, and is suspected of involvement in arms trafficking to conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

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