Russia says Mr. Bout is an innocent businessman and wants him in Moscow. Experts say Mr. Bout has knowledge of Russia’s military and intelligence operations and that Moscow does not want him going on trial in the United States. However, in a statement issued in August through his wife Alla, Mr. Bout declared “I don’t possess any secrets of the Russian state or its leaders.”
Mr. Bout was arrested in Bangkok as he met with U.S. agents posing as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization. He was charged with conspiracy for purportedly trying to smuggle missiles and rocket launchers to the FARC, as well as conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Peter Danssaert, a weapons trafficking expert at the International Peace Information Service — an independent, Belgium-based institute that focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa — said the U.S approach might not shed much light on the illicit trade.
“When the U.S. government goes for the FARC charges, we will never truly discover what he did in Africa, because this will not be part of this trial,” Danssaert said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. “Most likely ‘some’ will be very happy that the Africa allegations never make it into a court of law.” Danssaert and other researchers have suggested that allies of the United States were also involved in illicit arms trafficking, but won’t be exposed for political reasons.
The extradition came just a few days before a deadline that might have let Mr. Bout walk free. The same Thai court that last month gave the final go-ahead for his extradition also had declared that Bout had to be extradited before Nov. 20, or else be released.
A Thai court in August of 2009 originally rejected Washington’s request for Mr. Bout’s extradition on terrorism-related charges. After that ruling was reversed by an appeals court in August this year, the U.S. moved to get him out quickly, sending a special plane to stand by.
However, just ahead of the appeals court ruling, the United States had forwarded new money-laundering and wire fraud charges to Thailand in an attempt to keep Mr. Bout detained if the court ordered his release. But the move backfired and caused a new delay, and only an early October court ruling cleared the final path to extradition.
U.S. federal prosecutors planned a press conference for late Wednesday morning in New York City.
Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok, Yelena Yegorova in Moscow and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.