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Thailand Investigates Russian Arms Dealer

By VOA News
07 March 2008

Thailand says it is investigating an alleged Russian arms dealer, known as the "Merchant of Death," as his lawyer in Moscow and U.S. authorities struggle over his future fate.

Federal prosecutors in New York want Thailand to deport Viktor Bout to the United States where he is accused of trying to sell weapons to a leftist rebel group in Colombia.

But, Bout's lawyer, Viktor Burobin, says his client should be returned to Russia. Speaking Friday, in Moscow, Burobin called Bout's arrest Thursday at a luxury hotel in Bangkok "unacceptable" and "deceptive."

Thai authorities say they have yet to decide if Bout will first face trial in their country on charges of giving weapons and financial support to terrorists. Bout could face up to 10 years in a Thai prison if convicted.

Federal prosecutors in New York have charged him with conspiring to provide material support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The 41-year-old ex-Soviet air force officer has been accused of trafficking weapons to war-torn countries, especially in Central and West Africa. One of his alleged clients was former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is now on trial for war crimes. Bout also was suspected of selling arms to Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Bout has been investigated in several countries, but has never been prosecuted.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.


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