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Friday, August 21, 2009

Viktor Bout - Did Russia Infuence the Court?

Proving once again how difficult it is to carry out a global war on terror, Viktor Bout, an arms dealer considered a security threat to the U.S. and caught in a daring DEA sting, will remain in Thailand for now.

Read Stephan Talty’s account of Bout’s capture from the January issue of Men’s Journal
On Tuesday, August 11, a Thai court rejected the United States’ request to extradite alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout on charges of attempting to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to Colombian FARC rebels. According to a report from Reuters, the Thai judge ruled that the charges against Bout were not applicable under Thai law, given that FARC is recognized as a political organization, and not a terrorist one, by Thailand. Thai prosecutors have begun the appeal process. For the time being, Bout is still being held in Thai jail until the appeal is accepted or rejected.

The DEA worked for months to steer the Bout sting to a country with an extradition treaty with the United States. After coaxing Bout out of Russia, plans to nab him in Romania fell through when Bout failed to secure a visa. Thailand presented itself as an option.

“Thailand was a contingency plan,” explains Michael Braun, former DEA chief of operations and the man who was in charge of the sting operation that took down Bout. “We coordinated with our Thai counterparts and other U.S. agencies. Viktor agreed to meet with our undercover agents in Thailand. In hindsight I don’t look back. I don’t believe we made any mistakes. Thailand appeared to be the very best option.”

It is widely believed that Viktor Bout’s influence extends to the highest levels of the Russian government and military, and many have pointed to the possibility that these connections may have influenced the decision of the court.

“Am I suspect? I spent 34 years in law enforcement, so I’m naturally suspect,” says Braun. “Open source reports say that the Russian government has offered sweetheart arms deals and sweetheart oil deals to the Thai government.”

“The DEA targeted Bout at the request of the U.S. National Security Council,” says Braun. “They saw him as a significant security threat. They said to us, ‘Please apply your trade craft to targeting this man.’ We went after him and succeeded in grabbing the guy. My biggest fear behind all this? If he was perceived as national security threat then, what about now? You think he’s not going to hold a grudge?”

By Martin Mulkeen

The Rest @ Mens Journal

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