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Russia demands justice in alleged arms dealer's case

RIA Novosti

02:49 06/10/2010

BANGKOK, October 6 (RIA Novosti) - Russia called on Thai authorities to show an "unbiased approach" to the case of alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, whom the United States wants extradited and Moscow wants repatriated.

The second set of U.S. charges against the Russian national was dropped on Tuesday. The decision brings the so-called Merchant of Death one step closer to extradition on an earlier U.S. request.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said late on Tuesday that a decision on Bout's extradition should be in line with the country's legislation and evidence submitted to the court.

"Bout's lawyers have closely studied the documents; we are also familiar with their contents and consider the evidence [against Bout] absolutely inappropriate," he said.

The Russian minister earlier slammed the previous court ruling, which ordered Bout's extradition to the United States, as "unlawful," having been made "under outside pressure."

Russian Foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement on Tuesday evening that the Bout case was "paradoxical."

"The Thai authorities keep in prison the Russian national, who in fact was twice found not guilty by a Thai court. Bout still faces extradition to the United States," he said.

"There are no legal norms to justify such moves by Thai authorities," the statement reads. "This blatant injustice is explained by outside pressure being exerted on Bangkok officials."

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the U.S. was looking forward "to having Viktor Bout in a prison near us very soon."

"I believe, actually, there is a mandatory kind of waiting period," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told a daily press briefing. "But we believe after this mandatory period under Thai law, we look forward to a speedy extradition of Viktor Bout to the United States."

"The Thai Government is very well aware of our views on this case," he added.

Bout, 44, was arrested in March 2008 at the request of the United States. Bout claims he has never been involved in the arms trade and that there was no evidence of his involvement in the business.

The Bangkok Criminal Court refused last August to extradite him to the United States, where he is facing four terrorism-related charges and a possible life sentence.

The court explained that the U.S. request was turned down due to a lack of evidence and because the case was politically motivated. However, the United States appealed the ruling denying the extradition and filed new charges against him.

Bout's extradition to the United States was ordered by the Thai appeals court, which has a supreme authority on the issue, on August 20.

Sirisak Tiyapan, executive director of the Office of the Attorney-General's (OAG) International Affairs department said on the national TV that if the U.S. does not appeal the court ruling, Bout's extradition may take place "very soon."

"The prosecutors lost the second case. However, there are currently no obstacles for Bout's extradition to the U.S. We will do our best to speed up the process," he said.

Bout's Thai lawyer, Lak Nitivat, said he would appeal the court decision, which turns down the second U.S. extradition request.

"I will protest against the wording in the court ruling," he said. "I will seek to review the case... The present court ruling infringes my defendant's interests," the lawyer added.

Experts say the move is to stall Bout's extradition, which must be carried out within three months after the announcement of the sentence. The deadline is November 20.

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