Alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout whisked to America
Viktor Bout, a former Russian Air Force officer accused of being one of the world's biggest illicit arms traffickers, was handed over to the US by Thai officials.
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The diplomatic tug-of-war over Bout began in March 2008, after he was arrested in a joint sting operation by the Royal Thai Police and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Bout had allegedly agreed to sell $5 million worth of weaponry, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, to people he believed were agents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the US considers a terrorist group.Skip to next paragraph
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An earlier attempt to extradite Bout failed last year when a Thai court ruled in his favor, but the US appealed to a higher court, which decided to turn him over in August.
Bout denies being a weapons merchant and claims that he ran an air cargo business that specialized in delivering goods to difficult places. But the US says that the multilingual former Soviet officer made a huge fortune shipping arms from eastern Europe into conflict zones in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
"The Russian reaction to the prosecution of Bout might have been different if the Americans had come to our side and spelled out the case against him," says Mr. Baranets, who has interviewed Bout and says he appears to have many strong arguments in his own defense.
"As it is, we have a lot of questions. Many people in Russia believe that Bout is being framed. Some think that Bout was removed because he's a competitor of American arms interests, or otherwise crossed them. The case against him contains a lot of strong accusations, but the substance looks thin."
Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's foreign relations committee, says the issue is unlikely to derail US-Russian relations, but says it sets a dangerous precedent.
"Bout is not a citizen of the US, nor do the Americans have any evidence of him breaking the law on US soil, so why are they doing this?" he says. "It appears the US is acting like a global prosecutor, and a world judge. But who gives them this power? This looks something like Guantanamo," where people fall into legal limbo, he says. "The principle is wrong."