US in new Bout extradition ploy

19 / 02 / 2010

VIKTOR Bout (right), the so-called Merchant of Death, must be feeling all warm and fuzzy considering the extent that Russia and the US are fighting over him.

The latest attempt by the US to get its hands on him involves charges that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, conspired to violate United Nations sanctions by trying to sell arms to the Congo and Liberia.

From mid-2007, Bout and Chichakli – Chichakli was last reported to be living in Moscow – are accused of, starting in the summer of 2007, ferrying the arms via the US and Tajikistan using their company, Samar Airlines.

According to, Preet Bharara, the US attorney who announced the indictment: “Viktor Bout allegedly made a career of arming bloody conflicts and supporting rogue regimes across multiple continents, even using the US banking system to secretly finance a fleet of aircraft.”

The charges are a new way for the US to try and persuade Thailand, which is currently holding Bout, to extradite him for trial in the US. However, Russia is putting heavy pressure on Thailand to release the former KGB officer to it instead.

Trapped between the two heavyweight trading partners, the Thai government delegated all responsibility for the decision to the judge in charge of the case.

US agents posing as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Washington classifies as a terrorist organisation, originally arrested Bout in March 2008 in Bangkok. The Thai judge rejected the extradition request, as Thailand does not consider FARC a terrorist group.

The new charges, focusing on UN sanctions in Africa, bypass that clause and invalidate the court’s ruling.

Michael Braun, the US Drug Enforcement Administration agent who hunted Bout, said: “I think it is going to be far more difficult for the Thai government to release this guy to [the] Russian authorities and more likely that he will be extradited to the United States.”

Russia no doubt disagrees.

Interestingly, Brian Johnson-Thomas, of the International Peace Information Service, speculates that the Il-76 recently seized for trying to smuggle arms from North Korea was a set up.

He points out that the cargo aircraft’s bizarrely long and circuitous route would have heightened the chance of capture rather than lowered it. In addition, the aircraft coincidentally was once linked to Bout.

Johnson-Thomas therefore suggests, considering that it was the US which tipped off the Thai authorities, that Washington was behind the shipment and wanted to use the capture as a strange way of ‘gently encouraging’ the Thai authorities to release Bout to the US.