[JURIST] The Thai government on Tuesday extradited alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to the US to stand trial. The Thai Cabinet [official website, in Thai] approved the extradition [Bangkok Post report] and handed Bout over to US law enforcement officials for immediate departure to the US. Bout has been fighting extradition since 2008 when he was arrested and accused of running an arms trafficking network in South America, Africa and Afghanistan. Upon arrival in the US, Bout faces charges stemming from a 2008 indictment [text, PDF] for selling weapons to a terrorist group and conspiring to kill US nationals. The Russian Foreign Ministry [official website, in Russian] opposes the extradition [press release], claiming political motivation fueled the Thai government’s decision:
There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout is a consequence of the unprecedented political pressure exerted by the United States on the government and judicial authorities in Thailand. All this can only be characterized as interference in the administration of justice and calls into question the independence of Thailand’s judicial system and of decision making by the Thai authorities.
The Russian government maintains that Bout is innocent. If convicted in the US, Bout faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
In October, the Bangkok Criminal Court paved the way for Bout’s extradition to the US when it dismissed money laundering and fraud charges [JURIST report] against him. In an attempt to avoid extradition to the US, Bout appealed the decision [JURIST report], requesting that the charges be reinstated. In August, a Thai appeals court ruled that Bout must be extradited [JURIST report] to the US within three months or be released from Thai custody. The court’s decision overturned a ruling by the Bangkok Criminal Court in August 2009, refusing to extradite Bout [JURIST report] on the basis that the accusations made by the US were not cognizable under Thai law. Bout has been in Thai custody since he was arrested [Interpol press release] in a joint operation carried out by US and Thai authorities in which Bout allegedly sought to sell arms to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [CFR backgrounder].