BANGKOK – The wife of accused Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout said Monday she will sue Thailand in an attempt to get him released from U.S. custody after the Southeast Asian nation extradited him last week.
At a news conference in Bangkok, Alla Bout also said that her husband would fight the case against him and not cut a deal with U.S. authorities. He pleaded not guilty in New York last week to a conspiracy charge that alleges he illicitly traded arms to a terror group.
There has been speculation Bout holds Russian intelligence he might exchange for leniency. Bout denies that but Moscow strongly opposed his extradition.
Bout, a former Soviet air force officer reputed to have been one of the world's most prolific arms dealers, 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.
He was arrested at a Bangkok hotel in a sting operation in 2008 after U.S. agents posing as Colombian rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — FARC — allegedly set up a deal to purchase arms from him. FARC is classified by Washington as a narco-terrorist group.
Bout was charged with conspiracy, accused of agreeing to smuggle missiles and rocket launchers to the FARC, and conspiring to kill U.S. officers or employees. If convicted, he could face a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.
Thailand extradited Bout following a protracted legal battle, during which Moscow and Washington are believed to have pressured the Thai government over the outcome.
Alla Bout said Monday she would take legal actions against the Thai government, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other officials were responsible for turning over her husband to U.S. authorities.
She and Bout's lawyer, Lak Nittiwattanawichan, have called the extradition a breach of both international obligations and domestic Thai law. They charge the action was political, carried out before the judicial process had run its course.
"However absurd it might sound to you, we will be trying to make the Thai government — which released Viktor to the hands of the American authorities — bring him back from the United States to Thailand and release him," Alla told reporters through an interpreter.
On the subject of whether U.S. officials offered him any inducements after he was handed over to their custody, she said that "Viktor told them that he is going to fight his case in court, not take their offer because he believed that he is innocent."
The alleged offer was not clear. Russia's Consul General in New York, Andrey Yushmanov, said last week that Bout rejected U.S. pressure during the transfer to confess to what he did not do and was promised "some advantages" in return.
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, and fought hard to avoid extradition.
He has been referred to as "The Merchant of Death," and was an inspiration for the arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film "Lord of War."