BANGKOK, Thailand – An alleged arms smuggler's extradition hearing to the United States began Monday after a string of delays in the high-profile case because of complications with his defense team in Thailand.
Viktor Bout, dubbed "The Merchant of Death," has been indicted in the U.S. on four terrorism charges. He was arrested in Thailand on March 6.
Though Bout denies any involvement in illicit activities, he is regarded as one of the world's most-wanted arms traffickers and was purportedly the model for the character portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War."
Chained at the ankles, Bout made no comment as he was led into Bangkok's Criminal Court.
Monday's hearing was briefly interrupted at the start when defense attorney Preecha Prasertsak petitioned the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the Russian had been illegally detained. After a half-hour adjournment, judges said the complaint would be considered at a later date.
Bout's defense team has repeatedly said it plans to fight his extradition, a procedure that has been bogged down by the Russian's inability to hold onto a lawyer.
The hearing was initially scheduled to start June 9 but was postponed when Bout's attorney at the time said he had heart problems.
Bout was then given a court-appointed attorney who failed to show up for the rescheduled hearing on July 28, saying he had another case in court at the same time. That lawyer was dismissed and Bout was assigned representation by Preecha.
It was not immediately clear how long the extradition proceedings would take.
The 41-year-old Russian faces charges of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, according to a U.S. indictment made public May 6. He faces a life sentence.
American prosecutors say Bout was offering a deadly arsenal of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, including more than 700 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of guns, high-tech helicopters, and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles. The U.S. classifies FARC as a terrorist organization.
The charges were based in part on a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6. Bout was arrested after a sting operation in which undercover U.S. agents posed as Colombian rebels.
Bout, who has been accused of breaking several U.N. arms embargoes, has a long list of alleged clients including African dictators and warlords such as former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and both sides of the civil war in Angola.