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

RIA Novosti

06/03/2008 16:53 MOSCOW, March 6 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow may request the extradition of Russian businessman Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand at the request of U.S. authorities on charges of illegal arms trading, a Russian law enforcement source said on Thursday.

Viktor Bout, 41, is a Russian former KGB major and an alleged arms dealer nicknamed "the Merchant of Death".

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

Bout has reportedly been trafficking weapons to Central and West Africa since the early 1990s. U.N. reports say 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 U.N.-embargoed destinations from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other countries.

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

Russia's Interpol branch confirmed on Thursday that both Belgium and Interpol issued warrants for his arrest in 2002.

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

Bout had 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.'

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