A lawyer for alleged international arms trafficker Viktor Bout says Thai tried to force Bout to go to the United States, following his arrest in Thailand, earlier this month. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.
Thai authorities are holding Viktor Bout - the man some call the "Merchant of Death" - without bail in a Bangkok prison. Thai officials have yet to unveil charges against him after he was arrested on March 6 in a hotel in Bangkok. Bout's arrest came after a 12-month investigation in which reports say American agents posed as representatives of Colombian rebels seeking to reach a multi-million dollar arms deal with the Russian businessman.
His attorney, Yan Dasgupta, told reporters he believes his client is being held unlawfully and notes that Thai authorities had as yet to file charges against him, Monday. The lawyer says that, while Bout was being held at a Bangkok police station after his arrest, Thai government agents tried to persuade and physically force Bout to board an airplane to the United States.
|Yan Dasgupta, the lawyer for a purported Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, talks to the media during a press conference in Bangkok, 17 Mar 2008|
"It's quite clear certain governmental officials tried to send him to the United States, without following proper legal procedure," said Dasgupta. "And, my client was resisting his first hours after being detained in order to avoid this kind of illegal attitude toward his person."
Dasgupta says U.S. agents were present and monitoring the conversations as Thai officials were trying to persuade Bout. Thai officials did not immediately comment on the lawyer's remarks.
The United States has begun the process to extradite Bout to U.S. territory after his indictment on charges of conspiring to provide weapons to a foreign terrorist organization. U.S. embassy officials say they are not aware of any altercation between officials and Bout after his arrest.
Bout is the owner of a Russian aircraft maintenance company and other businesses. Reports say that, in the past 15 years, say he has supplied weapons to both rebel leaders and governments in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. He is also said to have had dealings with organizations including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaida. Bout was arrested when he dealt with U.S. agents who he thought were representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - regarded by the United States as terrorists.
|Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout escorted from hearing at police headquarters in Bangkok, 07 Mar 2008|
The lawyer says Bout's associate, Andrew Smulian, was in Bangkok at the time Bout was arrested. Smulian appeared in a court in the United States, last week, to face charges, of conspiring to supply arms to terrorists. Officials have not said how Smulian ended up on U.S. territory.