Washington Nov. 16, 2010 -- Viktor Bout, the so-called "merchant of death", suspected of being one of the world's biggest arms smugglers, is in the custody of U.S. officials, and has arrived in New York, where he will face trial, after a nearly 2-year legal fight that began with his 2008 arrest in Thailand. Bout has been accused of selling weapons to many of the world's despots, from drug dealers to the Taliban.
He arrived on a Drug Enforcement Administration charter plane and was transported to a prison in Manhattan according to the Department of Justice.
He is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheidlin.
Thailand extradited the accused Russian arms trafficker, to face terrorism charges, siding with Washington in a tug of war with Moscow over whether to send him to stand trial or let him go home.
Federal prosecutors claim that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bout established numerous aviation companies that flew into civil war zones in Africa and Asia. The alleged goal: ferrying weapons to the highest bidder no matter the carnage.
The U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, once bluntly described Bout as having supported and fueled some "of the most violent and destabilizing conflicts in recent African history."
Bout also allegedly trafficked arms for the Taliban. His aviation services were so vast that the Pentagon contracted one of his companies to deliver goods into Iraq from 2003 to 2005. Despite the allegations swirling against him, Bout, a former Soviet military officer, lived openly in Russia for years. He was lured to Thailand by the DEA as part of a sting operation two years ago.
Russia Unhappy Over Bout Extradition
The Russian government which has long fought Bout's extradition from Thailand, today again expressed its frustration. In a statement Russian officials said "From a legal perspective, what has taken place cannot have a rational explanation or justification. It is without doubt that the illegal extradition of V. Bout is a consequence of unprecedented political pressure exerted by the USA on the government and the judicial authorities of Thailand," the statement said. "It is deeply regrettable that the Thai authorities succumbed to external political pressure and carried out the illegal extradition of V. Bout.
Recently, new charges were filed against Bout to include conspiracy, money-laundering, and wire fraud for attempts to establish a firm with a U.S.-based aviation holding company that leased Boeing 727 aircraft. Economic sanctions against Bout prohibited this type of business transaction. An indictment cites Bout's role in assisting Liberian President Charles Taylor and providing him with arms to fuel fighting in Sierra Leone in exchange for cash and diamonds.