A Thai court on Tuesday rejected the extradition of a man dubbed the "Merchant of Death", whom the U.S. government accuses of selling millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian rebels.
In rejecting the extradition request, the court said the case of Viktor Bout was politically motivated. U.S. authorities have 72 hours to decide whether to appeal. In the absence of an appeal, Bout will walk out of jail a free man. Bout was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 after a dramatic sting operation led by agents of the U.S. drug Enforcement Agency, posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Widely regarded as a prolific arms dealer, Bout, has been in Thai custody since. He is accused of supplying weapons to war zones around the world — from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan. The United States charged Bout last year with agreeing to sell surface-to-air missiles, armor-piercing rocket launchers, “ultralight” airplanes, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other weapons to FARC. Justice Department officials have sought his extradition since then. Federal authorities accused Bout of four terrorism offenses: conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the designation given to FARC by the U.S. State Department.
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Bout has repeatedly said he has not broken any laws and the allegations against him are lies. Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey singled out Bout as a leading example of a new breed of organized crime leaders who operate across international boundaries to amass wealth without regard to political ideology. A former Soviet air force officer, Bout allegedly began building his arms business as the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s. He spoke six languages, acquired surplus Soviet planes and, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, started shipping arms and ammunition to various conflict zones. It is widely believed that he inspired the character of Yuri Orlov, the arms dealer played by Nicholas Cage in the 2005 film “Lord of War.”