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Russian arms dealer sent to Thai prison

By Agencies



A Thai court on Saturday sent Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (pictured above, left) to a maximum security prison, as his lawyer denied that the man known as the "Merchant of Death" was supplying arms to Colombian rebels.


Bout, wearing a red polo shirt and khaki shorts, appeared in a Bangkok criminal court for a remand hearing, and was fingerprinted in front of the media.


The Russian's dealings are said to have inspired the Hollywood movie "Lord of War," starring Nicolas Cage as a ruthless arms trader.


Over the years, he is said to have supplied arms to Afghanistan's hardline Taliban militia, Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terror network, Marxist rebels in South America and former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor.


He appeared relaxed during his brief hearing Saturday, giving a thumbs-up to a Russian man in the crowd at the courthouse, while joking and laughing with police as he waited to be taken to the Klong Prem prison outside Bangkok.


Lak Nitiwatvichan, his Thai lawyer who was recommended by the Russian embassy in Bangkok, insisted that Bout had done nothing wrong but said he was willing to stand trial in Thailand.


"He was a military man. He has done nothing wrong," Lak told reporters, adding that he would seek Bout's release on bail.


"Thailand is a sovereign country, so since he was arrested in Thailand, he is willing to be prosecuted under Thai law," he said.


Bout was arrested on Thursday at a posh Bangkok hotel in a sting operation with Thai police and American anti-drug agents who had posed as Marxist Colombian rebels seeking an arsenal of weapons.


He will be held in Klong Prem as Thailand conducts further investigations to determine whether he could be prosecuted here.


Bout was arrested on a warrant charging him with procuring assets for terrorists, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


The United States, however, is also determined to extradite him on charges of conspiring to sell millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian FARC rebels.


Russia also plans to seek Bout's extradition, while Belgium has worked for years to capture him through the international police agency Interpol. (AFP)