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Viktor Bout, 'Merchant of Death' arms dealer, faces US terrorism charges

Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer ordered extradited to the US from Thailand Friday, is accused of conspiring to provide millions in military-grade weapons to Colombia's FARC guerilla group.

By Staff writer / August 20, 2010

Viktor Bout, a suspected Russian arms dealer, stands in a holding cell at a Bangkok criminal court on Friday.

Sukree Sukplang/Reuters

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Washington

An appeals court in Thailand on Friday ordered the extradition of a Russian arms merchant wanted in the US on terrorism charges for allegedly plotting to provide missiles and other military assistance to a Colombia-based guerilla group.

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Viktor Bout, sometimes called the “Merchant of Death,” is wanted on federal charges that he conspired to provide millions of dollars worth of military-grade weapons – including 800 anti-aircraft missiles – to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Mr. Bout is alleged to be one of the world’s most active black market arms traders, with an international network of 30 front companies, a fleet of cargo planes, and ready access to stockpiles of Russian arms.

According to US officials, arms sold or brokered by Bout have helped fuel conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the Sudan.

Upon hearing the court’s decision, Bout told reporters that he would face trial in the US and “win it,” according to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

His extradition comes after a long legal fight in Thailand to prevent his being sent to the US to stand trial. Bout’s lawyer said the charges were politically motivated by the US government.

He was arrested in Bangkok on March 6, 2008, where he had allegedly traveled to meet with undercover operatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration posing as FARC weapons buyers.

Bout denies that he was in Bangkok to sell weapons.

Because the US State Department has designated FARC as a terrorist organization, Bout’s indictment includes charges that he conspired with a foreign terrorist group to kill Americans citizens and officials, and that he conspired to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

If convicted on all four counts in his indictment he faces up to life in prison, $10 million in fines, and forfeiture of any assets linked to the alleged conspiracy.

In August 2009, a criminal court in Bangkok agreed with Bout’s lawyer and blocked his transfer to the US. The Thai court said FARC is a political/military group, not a terrorist organization. That decision was overturned on Friday by the Thai appeals court.

"We are extremely pleased that the appeals court in Thailand has granted the extradition,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler.

"The prosecution of Viktor Bout is of the utmost priority to the United States, but the criminal charges he faces are not solely an American concern,” Grindler said. “He has been sanctioned by the United Nations for alleged arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts in Africa.”

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