[JURIST] The Bangkok Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed money laundering and fraud charges against suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], paving the way for his extradition to the US. The court found that there was insufficient evidence [BBC report], in addition to other technicalities, to prosecute Bout. The charges [indictment, PDF] were filed by US prosecutors in February in order to keep Bout in jail while attempts were made to have him extradited. The decision to drop the charges comes just a day after the court decided to proceed [JURIST report] with the action. The US and Thai prosecutors sought to have the money laundering and fraud charges dropped after a Thai appeals court ruled [JURIST report] in August that Bout could be extradited to the US within three months to face several charges, including conspiracy to kill US nationals and conspiracy to provide material support to a proscribed terrorist group. Bout’s lawyer continues to profess his client’s innocence on all charges, and plans to file an appeal [Bangkok Post report] should prosecutors pursue the extradition.
Bout’s situation has created political tension for Thailand. Russia has shown strong support for Bout, claiming that he is an innocent businessman, while the US is seeking to prosecute him for supporting terrorism. Last week, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official website, in Thai; BBC profile] said that, although the case must work its way through the court system, he will make the final decision [AP report] as to whether Bout will be extradited to the US. The August appeals court decision overturned a 2009 decision by the Bangkok Criminal Court, refusing to extradite [JURIST report] Bout on the basis that the accusations made by the US were not cognizable under Thai law. The appeals court ruled that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], the group Bout is accused of supporting, is a cognizable terrorist group [Guardian report] under Thai law and that Thailand is obligated to honor its extradition treaties with the US. Lawyers for Bout argued that his safety would be in jeopardy in the US and that he would be unable to receive a fair trial. If convicted in a US court, Bout could be sentenced to life in prison.