BANGKOK – Accused Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout filed a last-ditch appeal Friday to try to stall his extradition to the United States, where he faces terrorism charges.
Bout's lawyer, Lak Nittiwattanawichan, said the Criminal Court has not said whether it will agree to hear the appeal.
The effort would appear to lack legal standing, since the court's ruling Tuesday that Bout is seeking to appeal said prosecutors, rather than the defense, had the right to appeal.
The court's dismissal Tuesday of additional charges against Bout cleared the way for a previous ruling allowing the extradition to proceed. The earlier decision said the extradition must take place within 90 days, or by Nov. 20.
Anticipating possible problems. the prosecutor's office said Thursday it would seek an extension of the deadline if necessary.
While the court rulings allow extradition, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has repeatedly said the final decision on whether Bout will be sent to the United States lies with his government. He has expressed dissatisfaction that the U.S. and Russia, which opposes extradition, have tangled Thailand in a tug-of-war over Bout.
Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force officer who is reputed to have been one of the world's most prolific arms dealers, was arrested in March 2008 in Bangkok as part of a sting operation led by U.S. agents. Bout has allegedly supplied weapons that fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa, with clients including Liberia's Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and both sides in Angola's civil war.
A Thai court in August last year originally rejected Washington's request for Bout's extradition on terrorism-related charges. After that ruling was reversed by an appeals court in August this year, the U.S. moved to get him out quickly, sending a special plane to stand by.
However, just ahead of the appeals court ruling, the United States forwarded new money-laundering and wire fraud charges to Thailand in an attempt to keep Bout detained if the court ordered his release. But the move backfired, because it required a hearing on the new charges, which took place Tuesday.
The head of a lucrative air transport empire, Bout had long evaded U.N. and U.S. sanctions aimed at blocking his financial activities and restricting his travel. He claims he ran a legitimate business and never sold weapons.
Russia says Bout is an innocent businessman and wants him in Moscow. Experts say Bout has knowledge of Russia's military and intelligence operations and that Moscow does not want him going on trial in the United States.