Tue, Jul 29, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Extradition hearing for arms dealer postponed

AP , BANGKOK

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Anatoljevich Bout is escorted by Thai prison officials at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, yesterday. A hearing on extraditing him to the US has been postponed until Sept. 22.

PHOTO: EPA

A Thai court delayed reputed Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout’s extradition hearing to the US for a second time after his new defense attorney failed to show up for the high-profile case yesterday.

Bout, dubbed “The Merchant of Death,” has been indicted in the US on four terrorism charges. Though he denies any involvement in illicit activities, he is regarded as one of the world’s most-wanted arms traffickers and was purportedly the model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie Lord of War.

Barefoot and shackled, Bout was led into Bangkok’s Criminal Court for a hearing that ended abruptly because his defense lawyer, whose name was not immediately available, was not present.

The lawyer “says he has another case. The court deems that it is necessary to postpone,” Judge Jitakorn Patanasiri told the court.

The judge initially set the new date as Aug. 22 but then corrected himself to say Sept. 22.

Prosecutor Vipon Kititasnaisornchai agreed to the postponement after the court showed him a formal request filed by a representative of the defense lawyer.

“The newly appointed lawyer has another case scheduled at the same time,” Vipon told the court, adding he “preferred not to postpone the case but the circumstance was beyond [the defense lawyer’s] capacity.”

On June 9, the first hearing was delayed for because Bout’s other attorney, Lak Nitiwatanavichan, said he had heart problems.

Lak, who is now serving as a legal adviser in the case, said Bout plans to fight the extradition.

“He’s innocent. There are no grounds for his extradition,” the lawyer said.

The 41-year-old Russian faces charges of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill US officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, a US indictment made public on May 6 stated. He faces a life sentence.

US prosecutors say Bout was offering a deadly arsenal of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of guns, high-tech helicopters, and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles. The US classifies FARC as a terrorist organization.

The charges were based in part on a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6.

Bout was arrested after a sting operation in which undercover US agents posed as Colombian rebels.

Bout, who has been accused of breaking several UN arms embargoes, has a long list of alleged clients including African dictators and warlords such as former Liberian president Charles Taylor and both sides of the civil war in Angola.

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