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Alleged Russian arms dealer hopeful of 'fair' Thai court verdict

RIA Novosti

11/08/200910:03

BANGKOK, August 11 (RIA Novosti) - Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is facing extradition from Thailand to the United States for alleged illegal arms trafficking, said on Tuesday he was hopeful of a "fair" verdict.

A Thai court is set to announce its ruling on Bout's extradition at about 10:30 Moscow time (06:30 GMT) on Tuesday.

"I cannot say I am certain of anything. But I look into the future with a strong hope that the [Thai] court's ruling will be fair," Bout said in an exclusive interview with RIA Novosti shortly before the Tuesday session.

Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Bangkok in March last year during a sting operation led by U.S. agents. The United States accuses Bout of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars' worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms dealings.

Bout, who has spent over a year in a Thai prison, is facing extradition and trial in the United States after Thai authorities earlier announced that they would not press charges against the man dubbed the "Merchant of Death" by world media.

The Russian businessman has consistently denied the accusations and said his case was fabricated by the U.S. government.

"There are no real grounds for extradition because there is no evidence of my guilt. I have not committed any crime and all the American accusations against me are mere conjecture," Bout reiterated in the interview.

"The judges know and realize this - it was repeatedly said during the trial. That is why it is all clear to me - if the court is given the opportunity to pronounce a fair verdict, I will return home," he added.

The ruling could well create problems for the Thai authorities, as whichever way the court rules it is likely to harm relations with either Moscow or Washington. Russia has consistently said that Bout should be freed.

In any case, either the prosecutors or the defense could appeal the court's ruling in a higher court within 14 days. The decision will then be final because Thailand's Supreme Court does not review extradition cases.



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