- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2010

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. request for extradition in August 2009, New York prosecutors bolstered their request in February by adding allegations of money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy.

Those newer, seemingly more incriminating charges indicate the main strategy prosecutors will pursue during Mr. Bout’s trial in New York.

The U.S. now has 30 days to complete the extradition process, otherwise Mr. Bout will be released.

Dubbed the “Lord of War” and “Merchant of Death,” the stout, mustachioed Mr. Bout arrived at the appeals court Friday grinning and winking with confidence, but after hearing the final verdict in the “United States of America vs. Viktor Bout” case, began crying while led away in mandatory leg chains.

Mr. Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, lashed out at the Bangkok court’s verdict hours after it was announced.

“We are sorry about this in my opinion nonlegal decision, politically motivated decision, that Thailand’s court made,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to Russia’s TV channel RT.

“This decision, according to information we dispose, was made under strong pressure from outside, and this is sad,” he said, without mentioning the United States or offering any evidence.

“Concerning interests of the Russian citizen, all these months we have been giving him assistance, were in touch with his lawyers and his family, and I assure you that we will do all that is necessary to achieve his return home,” Mr. Lavrov said.

“We will face the trial in the United States and win it,” Mr. Bout told reporters in Russian after the verdict, according to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“I appeal to Russian authorities to interfere in the case, and react the same tough way to this dishonest [American] interference, and help the citizen of the Russian Federation,” he said.

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