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Daily Archives: August 12, 2009

Thailand rejects ‘arms dealer’ extradition

A court in Thailand surprised close ally the United States yesterday by rejecting a request for the extradition of Viktor Bout, the Russian alleged arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of Death".
Bout, who is said to have inspired the Hollywood film "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage, has been fighting extradition since his March 2008 arrest in Bangkok on charges of peddling weapons around the world, including to Al-Qaeda.
Russia said it was "satisfied" by the court's ruling, but a senior US diplomat said his country was "disappointed and mystified" and hoped the Thai government would appeal against the decision.
"The Thai court has agreed to dismiss the case," judge Jitakorn Patanasiri said.
The burly, moustachioed Bout flashed a victory sign after the decision. The court ruled that he should remain in detention for another 72 hours to give Thailand's attorney general a chance to appeal.
Bout, 42, was arrested in a sting at a Bangkok hotel after allegedly agreeing to supply surface-to-air missiles to US agents posing as guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The Thai judge, however, said that the court in Bangkok "does not have the authority to punish actions done by foreigners against other foreigners in another country."
He said that FARC had been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and the United States but not by Thailand, meaning that as far as Thailand was concerned it was a political movement.
"So the defendant's conspiracy counts as a political movement and therefore we have agreed to dismiss the case," Jitakorn said.
Bout's wife, Alla, said she was relieved.
"I was worried but now I am very happy," she told reporters, wiping tears from her eyes. "I can't say much because I am so emotional right now."
Bout, who has been held at a maximum-security prison outside Bangkok, has denied the charges and insists that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.
"We are disappointed and mystified by the court's ruling. We think the facts of the case are relevant to Thai laws," James Entwistle, the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Bangkok, told reporters.
He said that US officials would "consult closely with the Thai government."
"We understand they will make clear their intention to appeal the decision and we will support that in any way we can," he added.
Moscow said it hoped Bout would be freed swiftly.
"With satisfaction we welcome the decision of the court in Thailand and hope he will soon be able to return home," ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov told state news agency RIA Novosti.
Former Soviet air force pilot Bout speaks six languages and is known by eight different aliases.
Bout had faced life in prison if sent to the United States and convicted there on terrorism charges, including conspiracy to kill US officers or employees and conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.
 A US indictment accused him of using a fleet of cargo planes to transport weapons and military equipment to Africa, South America and the Middle East.
The nickname "Merchant of Death" was coined by a former British foreign office minister and also used for a 2007 book on Bout's alleged activities.

Russia building new ‘star wars’ missiles

Russia is developing new missiles to counter space-based missile systems that could soon be deployed by the United States, Russia's air force commander was quoted as saying yesterday.
"We are building new missiles that will be capable of defending not only against air-defence systems but space-based systems," General Alexander Zelin said, quoted by Russian news agencies.
The United States and other countries will have deployed such satellite-based missile systems capable of striking any target in Russia by 2030, he said.
"Foreign air forces, above of all the United States, will acquire the capability to deal time-synchronized precision strikes on a global scale at virtually any target on Russia territory," Zelin said.
The threat "is not virtual, but real," he added.
To counter such potential, Russia has begun work on the S-500 surface-to-air missile system that would have ballistic missile tracking capabilities and aim at a range of up to 3,500 kilometers, according to defence reports.
"The S-500 system is capable of defeating all manner of ballistic missiles and supersonic air devices," Zelin said.
Moscow vehemently opposes US plans to site a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe and has reacted warily to plans under the previous US administration it claimed had accelerated the militarisation of outer space.
Washington insists its shield plan is not directed against Russia but threats from "rogue states" such as Iran.
Last year, when the US military was planning to shoot down a rogue US spy satellite, Russia's defence ministry said the plans looked like a veiled weapons test and an "attempt to move the arms race into space."
Both Russia and China have proposed a new treaty banning the use of weapons in space, but the idea was rejected by the White House.