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Russian lawyer visits 'Merchant of Death' in Thai jail

RIA Novosti

13/03/2008 18:21 MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - A Moscow lawyer visited a suspected Russian arms dealer in jail in Thailand on Thursday, the Russian consul in the Southeast Asian country said.

Viktor Bout, 41, was arrested in a luxury hotel in Bangkok last week in a joint police operation led by the U.S. Washington is seeking Bout's extradition on charges of illegal weapons deals with militant groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in Middle East and African countries.

Vladimir Pronin, Russia's consul in Bangkok, said it was not clear whether the U.S. had already lodged a formal extradition request for Bout. He added that Bout was feeling 'fine,' but gave no details on the businessman's meeting with his lawyer.

Bout is a former lieutenant in the Russian military, who quit the armed forces in 1991. He then allegedly transformed himself into an international arms dealer, earning himself the nickname 'the Merchant of Death.' Nicholas Cage's character in the 2005 Hollywood film, 'Lord of War,' is said to be based on Bout's alleged 'career' as an arms dealer.

Bout's lawyer said in an interview in Moscow on Friday that his client's arrest at the request of U.S. authorities was unacceptable, and the defense team would seek his extradition to Russia. He admitted however that the defense team's options were limited.

Thai authorities denied Bout bail on Tuesday saying he could attempt to flee the country. Bout denies the arms dealing charges and claims he is in Thailand as a tourist.

The U.S. Justice Department's latest charges against Bout and his accomplice, 46-year-old Briton, Andrew Smulian, include a deal to sell and deliver surface-to-air missiles, helicopters and rocket launchers to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The group is listed as a terrorist organization in the U.S.

Smulian is currently being held in custody in Manhattan after being arrested last week in New York.

U.N. reports say Bout set up a network of more than 50 cargo aircraft around the world to facilitate his arms shipments.

Western law enforcement agencies consider him to be "the most prominent foreign businessman" involved in trafficking arms to UN-embargoed destinations. They claim he carried out his weapons shipments from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other countries.

The Russian branch of Interpol confirmed that Interpol had issued warrants for Bout's arrest in 2002.

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