Extradition today, but fresh legal row erupts
The extradition of Viktor Bout has become embroiled in a new and potentially bitter legal controversy just hours before the alleged Russian arms dealer is scheduled to be handed over to US authorities under tight security at the Don Mueang air force base.
His sudden extradition this morning has caught many Thai authorities by surprise as it was expected to be some time before he could be removed to US custody.It is not known who orchestrated the rapid extradition of Mr Bout.
The Office of the Attorney-General, upon hearing of his rapid extradition, yesterday tried to block the handover to the US authorities, who have sent a special jet and security personnel to Thailand to collect the Russian.
In a letter to government agencies, which it refused to name, the OAG says Mr Bout is facing fresh charges which require new extradition proceedings, and legally he cannot leave the country until the charges are heard and completed or are dropped.
Meanwhile, the Corrections Department said it could not hand Mr Bout over to the police until the new charges are dropped, leaving the whole issue in a legal tangle.
Sirisak Tiyaphan, director for international affairs at the OAG, said the office sent a letter to all agencies concerned that the extradition could not go ahead as Mr Bout was required to appear before the Criminal Court on Oct 4 on the first hearing of new money laundering and fraud charges, requested by US authorities.
That meant Mr Bout could not be allowed to leave the country until the new charges were dropped.
Any agency which decided to release him before the court hearing would have to take responsibility for violating the court’s legal procedures, he warned.
Mr Sirisak was speaking as information was released that Mr Bout would be handed over under tight security to US authorities at the air force facility in Don Mueang this morning.
Acting Crime Suppression Division chief Supisarn Bhakdinarinath said the air force had informed the CSD that US authorities would be on hand to collect Mr Bout at the airport and would use their own jet to fly him to the US.
The US jet arrived at the airport at about 3pm yesterday, the CSD acting chief said.
Pol Col Supisarn said Mr Bout would be transported in a high security vehicle from the Bang Kwang maximum security prison accompanied by about 50 armed commandos travelling in a convoy of cars.
Security would be tight along the route, Pol Col Supisarn said. He refused to reveal any details of when Mr Bout would be moved from the prison and which route would be used to get him to the airport.
“I can’t disclose the exact details of the time and the route. It is top secret,” he said.
Pol Col Supisarn said officers from the Metropolitan Police Bureau would be responsible for clearing traffic on the route for the convoy.
Chartchai Sutthiklom, director-general of the Corrections Department, said prison officials had provided maximum security for Mr Bout. Although he was not being held in solitary confinement, he was being kept away from other prisoners.
But Mr Chartchai said prosecutors must withdraw the new money laundering and fraud charges before the extradition could proceed.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry was also surprised at the swift extradition of Mr Bout today as it had not been made aware of it, a source said.
Normally, extradition proceedings needed to go through the ministry first, the source said.
Another OAG official confirmed the extradition of Mr Bout would violate Thai law if the new charges were not withdrawn first.
“It will be a serious violation of Thai law if the new cases are not dropped,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
The US embassy refused to comment on the US plane arriving to pick up Mr Bout, saying only that the case was being handled by the Department of Justice in Washington.
Public prosecutors on Friday submitted a fresh request seeking new extradition proceedings against Mr Bout on charges of money laundering and fraud to the Criminal Court, despite the Appeal Court approving his extradition last week on the other charges.
The US has contacted the government to ask it to withdraw the new charges.
Mr Bout was transferred to Bang Kwang Prison from Bangkok Remand Prison pending his extradition.
Russia has cried foul over the Appeal Court’s verdict on Friday to extradite Mr Bout to the US which overturned a Criminal Court ruling which had rejected the US request to hand him over.