Russia to request extradition of 'merchant of death' from Thailand

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Moscow, Mar 7 (UNI) Russia will request the extradition of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman and suspected top international smuggler, arrested in Thailand after a months-long sting operation.

Russia is going to seek the extradition from Thailand at the request of US authorities on charges of illegal arms trading, a Russian law enforcement source told RIA Novosti news agency.

''At this time, Russia is awaiting investigation materials from Thailand. After that, a decision to request extradition may be taken,'' the source said.

Bout, 41, is a former KGB major and an alleged arms dealer dubbed as the ''the Merchant of Death,'' for supplying arms to warring sides in Angola and Sierra Leone. He is believed to have inspired Nicolas Cage's character in the 2005 film Lord of War.

According to UN reports, he set up a network of more than 50 aircraft around the world to facilitate his smuggled arms shipments.

He is considered by Western law enforcement as ''the most prominent foreign businessman'' involved in trafficking arms to UN-embargoed destinations from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other countries.

Recent reports said he was also operating in Iraq using front companies and Cargo Airlifts (Airline Transport, Air West, Aerocom and TransAvia Export).

Russia's Interpol branch confirmed yesterday that both Belgium and Interpol issued warrants for his arrest in 2002, the agency said.

The US, which suspect Bout in helping Taliban and al-Qaida militants, imposed sanctions against Bout in 2005 by freezing his accounts and submitting a list of 30 companies linked to him to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee.

The US placed sanctions on Bout in 2006, seizing his fleet of cargo planes and freezing many of his assets, but he has never faced prosecution.

Thai authorities earlier said they would seek to prosecute Bout before he was extradited elsewhere. Bout earlier categorically denied accusations in an interview with Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, saying ''I have never supplied anything to or had contacts with the Taliban or al-Qaida.'' In 2007, Stephen Braun and Douglas Farah published a book about Bout entitled 'Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible'.

UNI XC SZ MIR KP1337

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