A tug of war between the Russia and the US has played out largely in public over Viktor Bout, dubbed “the Merchant of Death”, for if Bout starts talking to US prosecutors, the man accused of supplying the weapons for civil wars on three continents could raise the roof in Moscow and Washington.
On Friday, an appeals court in Bangkok ordered his extradition within three months to the United States, where he faces criminal charges that could put him in prison for life.
Experts say Bout would not have stayed alive, much less thrived, unless he had the blessing and support of influential Russian officials.
Bout has even made money off those who said they wanted to put him out of business: the US government and the United Nations. He ignored sanctions by both, while counting as customers the US military in Iraq and UN aid programs.
The Russians “wanted him back because he's linked to Russian intelligence,” said Rep. Ed Royce. Russia says it is just about international politics. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the court's decision “unlawful and political.”
Juan Zarate, a senior counterterrorism official in President George W. Bush's administration, pointed to Bout's “deep connections with the Russian establishment for some time.” He added, “perhaps some of those people are nervous about what he knows and what he might say if he lands in a courtroom in New York.”
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