Cable: Bout extradition was almost stopped

Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:52 PM
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BANGKOK, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. diplomats feared allies of alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout would stop his U.S. extradition from Thailand, a cable released by WikiLeaks indicated Thursday.

U.S. Ambassador Eric John told Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that Bout's "Russian supporters have been using money and influence" to persuade Thai courts to rule Bout should not be extradited to the United States, a Feb. 13, 2009, cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published on its Web site said.

John also told Abhisit witnesses had falsely testified that Bout was in Thailand on legitimate business at the time of his arrest, the cable said.

The cable, sent to Washington from the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, also said U.S. officials had learned of "a scheme to arrest and thereby embarrass two U.S. diplomats -- i.e. DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) agents assigned to the Bout investigation -- on meritless charges of participating in illegal recordings of Bout on the day of his arrest," the cable on the WikiLeaks Web site said.

A second cable John sent to Abhisit Aug. 13, 2009 -- two days after Thailand's Criminal Court rejected a U.S. request to extradite Bout -- encouraged "the Thai government to issue a public statement expressing disappointment in the judges' decision, its intention to win on appeal and a reiteration of Thailand's commitment to both the struggle against international terrorism and to its extensive law enforcement relationship with the United States."

Abhisit said Thursday his government was not pressured by Washington to extradite Bout, the Bangkok Post reported.

Bout, 43, reputed to have been the world's largest arms trafficker before his 2008 arrest in Thailand, was extradited to the United States last month to face federal charges of agreeing in a sting operation to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to agents posing as Colombian rebels intending to kill American pilots patrolling in the drug war.

Bout denied any links to arms trafficking. He faces possible life in prison if convicted.

Bout -- dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for allegedly selling guns, ammunition, tanks and helicopters to armed groups that U.S Treasury officials said inflamed conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan -- is said to have inspired the 2005 thriller film, "Lord of War," starring Nicolas Cage.

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