08/30/2010, 00.00
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PM Abhisit says government not meddling in the Bout extradition case

by Weena Kowitwanij
The well-known arms trafficker has been in a Thai jail since March 2008. Now a Thai court of appeal has ruled that he can be extradited to the United States, leading to protests from Russia, which wants to prevent the transfer because of his great knowledge about organised crime and Russian intelligence.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – “The arrest of Mr Victor Boot occurred under two previous governments, to which the two great nations, United States and Russia, have responded with valuable cases. The present government confirms that Thai judicial proceedings cannot be interfered with”. The “nations involved should discuss the matter by themselves,” said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Speaking on a Sunday current affairs TV show, he reiterated that Mr Bout’s extradition would be based on legal, not political considerations.

Dubbed the “Merchant of Death”, Viktor Bout is one the world’s largest arms dealer. He was arrested in a luxury hotel in Bangkok in March 2008 in an operation coordinated by the United States. Both Moscow and Washington filed extradition papers. For Bangkok, the issue is how to avoid antagonise both countries.

Bout is seen by many as a major criminal. The United States is willing to work out a deal with him and not impose life in prison if he provides information on world arms trafficking.

He is believed to know how weapons get to Afghan Taliban and rebels in Somalia and Yemen. He is also thought to know a lot about Russian espionage. Russia wants him for the same reasons.

An appeal court on 20 August decided to extradite him to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges and for selling weapons to Colombian fighters. Russia insists that he is a Russian national and that he did not commit any crime on US soil.

Mr Chawanon Intrakomalsut, secretary to Thailand’s foreign minister told the Russian government that the procedure is following the law.

“There is a rumour that Thailand agreed to send Mr. Boot to the US in exchange for 3 Black Hawk helicopter,” the prime minister’s deputy secretary general Panithan Wattanayakom said. However, this “is not true as the cabinet approved the purchase long ago.”

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