Extradition Frays Thai-Russian Relations; Appeals Court Decides to Offer Suspected Arms Dealer to U.S

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard S. Ehrlich, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BANGKOK -- Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is trying to repair damaged relations with the Kremlin after Moscow's foreign minister condemned the Thai government's decision to extradite Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout from Bangkok to New York.

In a situation like this, pressure is normal. So it is best to handle it in a straightforward manner, the softspoken, Oxford-educated Thai prime minister said after hearing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insult Thailand's judicial system.

The [Thai] government has been saying all along to the U.S. and Russia that it doesn't, and it can't, intervene in the justice process, Mr. Abhisit said Saturday.

After stalking Mr. Bout around the world for more than a decade, U.S. law enforcement and security agencies won a frustrating legal battle Friday to have him extradited from Thailand after his arrest in March 2008.

Mr. Bout and his lawyer said they would plead with Thailand's Foreign Ministry, and also its monarchy, to ignore the extradition order and set him free, which observers predicted would not be likely.

Mr. Bout faces possible life imprisonment if convicted in New York on charges of international weapons dealing in Bangkok, money laundering in the U.S. and other crimes. He has denied all wrongdoing.

One thing is for sure, the last thing Russia wants is Bout on American soil, spilling his guts after getting a taste of American justice meted out in a federal courthouse, said Michael A. Braun who, as chief of operations in 2007 for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was asked by the U.S. National Security Council to finally bring Mr. Bout to trial after chasing him since President Clinton's administration.

Mr. Bout was arrested in a Bangkok luxury hotel during a DEA sting for allegedly planning to sell weapons to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

After a lower Bangkok court rejected the first U.S. …