BANGKOK | Reputed Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout’s long-awaited extradition to the U.S. hit another delay Monday when a Thai court ruled that it needs to consider other charges filed against him by Washington.
The ruling by the Bangkok Criminal Court is another blow to the U.S., which had expected Mr. Bout’s rapid extradition after a Thai appeals court gave its approval on Aug. 20. He faces trial in the U.S. on four terrorism-related charges and could face life in prison.
The delay stems from a second set of charges filed against Mr. Bout by Washington as a precautionary measure to secure his extradition, a move that ironically is stalling the process and even could scuttle it if there are long legal delays.
Mr. Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force officer, is reputed to be one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. He has been jailed in Bangkok since March 2008, when a U.S.-led sting operation ended years of searching for the elusive Russian, who has been referred to as “the Merchant of Death.”
“There is enough time now to prove that the charges in my first case were biased and unfounded,” Mr. Bout told Russia’s ITAR-Tass.
His wife, Alla Bout, said, “Now it is absolutely clear to everyone that the case is absolutely political,” ITAR-Tass reported.
The case has plunged Thailand into a diplomatic dilemma, with Washington demanding Mr. Bout’s extradition to face terrorism charges and Moscow demanding his release, saying Mr. Bout is an innocent businessman.
The appeals court that ordered Mr. Bout’s extradition on Aug. 20 reversed a lower court’s decision from a year earlier. Rescinding the second set of charges that had been filed by the U.S. initially appeared to be a technicality.
Washington submitted its request in late August to the Thai Foreign Ministry to drop the charges.
However, under Thai law, a defendant has the right to object to charges against him being dropped — a stance Mr. Bout’s lawyer openly said he would take as a way to stall the extradition.
Long legal delays could scuttle the extradition. When the appeals court cleared the way for Mr. Bout’s extradition in August, it said the extradition must take place within three months, or roughly by Nov. 20.