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Accused "Lord of War" Fights Extradition

Accused "Lord of War" Fights Extradition


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's attempt to extradite a Russian, Viktor Bout, to America for alleged terrorism is not supported by evidence and is based on "blah blah blah," according to his lawyer.

"My client never has been to the United States and never committed a single action in the territory of the United States," Mr. Bout's Russian lawyer, Dasgupta Yan, said at a news conference on Monday (March 17).

"We don't consider him doing something wrong in relation to the United States of America," Mr. Yan said, challenging U.S. jurisdiction to extradite the Russian from Southeast Asia. "He does not consider himself to be guilty of any legal action, neither in Thailand nor anywhere else in the world."

Mr. Bout was jailed on March 6 in Bangkok by Thai police, who were aided by American, Romanian, Dutch and Danish security forces, the D.E.A. said.

The heavyset man was described by some weapons investigators as the 2005 "Lord of War" film's character Yuri Orlov, portrayed by American actor Nicholas Cage.

"I think the story expressed in this movie, and my client's story, are as different as how Nicholas Cage appears [compared] to the appearance of my client," Mr. Yan said referring to the heavy- set, muscular Mr. Bout and the lighter, more elegant physique of Mr. Cage.

"I think they are very different, you know?" Mr. Bout operated an aircraft "maintenance service" company in Russia, which did business in countries suffering "certain problems," which caused authorities to be "suspicions because of that," Mr. Yan said.

Mr. Bout, was arrested "on terrorism charges in Bangkok" for conspiring to sell "millions of dollars worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) and armor piercing rocket launchers" to "a foreign terrorist organization" in Colombia, the D.E.A. announced.

The D.E.A. described a sting operation in which Mr. Bout and his alleged co-defendant, Andrew Smulian, conspired to sell weapons to guerrillas in the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, commonly known as FARC.

The two men did not realize they were actually dealing with a disguised D.E.A. agent who they met in a Bangkok hotel, according to U.S. officials.

Mr. Smulian later appeared in New York where he is currently jailed awaiting trial.

The D.E.A.'s allegations against Mr. Bout have not been proven, Mr. Yan said.

"In accordance to my opinion, today, to what I see, it looks more like, you know, a little bit of 'blah blah blah', just like that," the Russian-based lawyer said.

"It has to be supported with the proper evidence...there are allegations, that's it. It is very unclear," Mr. Yan said. Mr. Bout, 41, was born in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, when it was part of the Soviet Union, according to his passport. "Today, he is running a firm in Russia. This firm is specialized in the provision of maintenance service to aircraft," Mr. Yan said. Asked later in an interview if he was concerned that the U.S. might declare Mr. Bout a "non-combatant" and rendition him to the U.S. naval base in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay without normal extradition procedures, Mr. Yan replied:

"We have to think about it. I don't think there is a great danger right at the moment, because he is already under the Thai jurisdiction, and he has to be treated in accordance with the Thai law." If he is set free from Thai custody, however, "there is a possibility" that Mr. Bout could be forced to Gitmo, Mr. Yan said. "I think this is not a correct approach to my client, and I don't think this approach will take place," the lawyer said before adding, "We are preparing for the possibilities.

"There are international organizations, including the United Nations, and international organizations for human rights where the United States is a participant, which comes from international treaties -- the European court of human rights, for example. So there are a lot of possibilities we are thinking to explore if required," he said.

"I think we will try to make noise everywhere" to stop any forced rendition.

Thai law allows Mr. Bout to be detained for up to 84 days without trial, he said.

American officials "tried to talk to him, and they even tried a type of interrogating of him at the moment of detention, which we don't think was proper," the lawyer said in the interview. "The type of interrogation was that they tried to interview him a little bit when he was detained. They tried to raise questions, without [legal] protocol," Mr. Yan said.

*************

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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