Arms dealer Bout gets boot in Thai court
A Thai criminal court dismissed Monday a claim by international arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death,” that his March 2008 arrest by Royal Thai Police in Bangkok was illegal because a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent assisted in the apprehension.
The court tossed out a lawsuit by Mr. Bout, who is accused in the U.S. of selling weapons to Marxist rebels in Colombia to kill Americans, because the whereabouts of the agent is unknown. Earlier this year, the same court rejected a similar challenge by Mr. Bout against two other DEA agents on the grounds that they were U.S. Embassy staff and had diplomatic immunity.
The U.S. government is appealing a decision by the court denying a pending extradition request to return Mr. Bout to New York to stand trial. It is unclear when a decision on that request will be made and what impact, if any, the latest court rulings might have.
Mr. Bout, 43, a former KGB major, was named in February in an indictment unsealed in New York in a conspiracy to finance a fleet of aircraft to arm bloody conflicts and support rogue regimes worldwide. He and an associate, Richard A. Chichakli, were accused of money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy, along with charges of conspiring to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in violation of economic sanctions.
Mr. Bout was arrested on March 6, 2008, on an Interpol “red notice,” a type of arrest warrant issued for those sought for prosecution by national jurisdictions. Red notices are circulated worldwide with a view to extradition.
His arrest culminated a DEA sting operation involving two undercover informants who posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a designated terrorist organization. FARC’s violent acts against U.S. targets have involved killings, kidnapping and bombings in Colombia of places frequented by Americans.
Mr. Bout, described by U.S. intelligence officials as the world’s most powerful player in illegal arms trafficking, was taken into custody by Thai police in his Bangkok hotel room — nabbed after talking with the undercover informants.
Authorities said Mr. Bout was seeking to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, and was apprehended in the final stages of making arrangements for the sale and shipment of the arms.
According to a criminal complaint, another Bout associate, Andrew Smulian, told the informants during a series of recorded meetings in Romania that Mr. Bout had 100 surface-to-air missiles available and could provide helicopters and armor-piercing rocket launchers. The complaint said Mr. Smulian spoke with Mr. Bout over a cell phone provided to him by the informants.
At the time of Mr. Bout’s arrest, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne confirmed that the agency was able to infiltrate his criminal organization and gain access to some of his key associates in numerous places throughout the world.
Mr. Bout is suspected of having shipped weapons and explosives to terrorist and rebel organizations worldwide, including the Taliban, and is thought to have supplied arms to Iraqi insurgents in their fight against the U.S. military through a maze of front companies and cargo airlifts.
The criminal complaint said Mr. Bout conspired with others to provide “material support or resources” to FARC. It said he and others agreed to sell to FARC weapons that could be used to protect their cocaine-trafficking business and to attack U.S. interests in Colombia, knowing that FARC has engaged in terrorist activity.
In an affidavit, DEA Agent Robert F. Zachariasiewicz said the agency directed a confidential source to make contact with Mr. Smulian concerning a business proposition for Mr. Bout in the purchase and shipment of weapons. During a meeting in Curacao, the affidavit said, the source introduced two other DEA confidential sources to Mr. Smulian who identified themselves as FARC representatives interested in purchasing a variety of military-grade arms.
As a show of their good faith, the affidavit said, the confidential sources gave Mr. Smulian $5,000 as compensation for his travel to meet with them.
A 2005 report by Amnesty International, a British-based human rights organization, said Mr. Bout was “the most prominent foreign businessman” involved in trafficking arms to U.N.-embargoed destinations from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other countries. The report also implicated Mr. Bout in transferring “very large quantities of arms” from Ukraine that were delivered to Uganda.