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Thai court ruling stalls extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer to US

Thailand’s Criminal Court on Monday dropped a prosecutor’s request to withdraw the second round of charges on money laundering against alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout, saying the defendant opposed the request, delaying the extradition of the wanted former Soviet air force officer to the United states.

An elusive Russian businessman dubbed “The Merchant of Death’, Mr Bout arrived at court Monday morning, wearing a bulletproof vest and under tightened security protection by Thai commandos.

Asked if he expected a fair trial in the US, Mr Bout shouted to reporters from a cell: “No! For sure no! Which fair trial are you talking about?”

The judges explained that since Thai extradition law did not stipulate about dropping legal procedures, therefore the court had to apply the Criminal Procedure Code, Article 35. Under the law, a defendant has the right to object to the charges against him being dropped, which Mr Bout decided to do to thwart any attempt to extradite him to the US.

As the court rejected the prosecutors’ request, the trial on money laundering and wire fraud will proceed. The judges, however, did not immediately set a date for the next hearing.

The Thai Court of Appeals ruled on August 20 to extradite Mr Bout, arrested and detained in Bangkok since March 2008, to the US to face charges of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to kill officials and employees of the United States government, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

The ruling of the Thai Court of Appeals to extradite Mr Bout overturned a lower court ruling in August 2009 that rejected a US request that Mr Bout face trial there.

The extradition of the Merchant of Death however can’t proceed as Mr Bout faces a second case concerning money laundering and wire fraud charges which was accepted by Thailand’s Court of First Instance – at the earlier request of the US government.

The US government later requested the Thai foreign ministry that the charges be withdrawn in order to proceed with extradition. The Office of Attorney-General later agreed to seek court approval to withdraw the second charges as proposed by the US government.

Somkid asked to sacrifice post

Posted by arnon_k On September - 22 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Muslim Democrat MPs want Saudi row defused

Muslim Democrat Party MPs are calling on Pol Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom to refuse his promotion to assistant national police chief as a gesture to help defuse tensions with Saudi Arabia.

The MPs’ request is in stark contrast to statements by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the party leader, and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, the party’s secretary-general, in support of the officer’s promotion.

Riyadh is unhappy with the promotion of Pol Lt Gen Somkid, one of five suspects who have been indicted over the disappearance of Saudi businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili in Thailand 20 years ago.

The Saudi embassy has been accused of dragging its feet in the granting of visas to Thais wanting to make the annual haj pilgrimage this year, but it says technical problems are to blame for the delays.

Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said 392 Thai-Muslims whose visas had been held up were processed yesterday afternoon by the Saudi embassy.

Saudi charge d’affaires Nabil Hussein Ashri also confirmed to the ministry that the 10,000-plus Thai Muslims who had applied for visas would be able to travel to Mecca on time.

But the Culture Ministry claims more than a thousand applications are being held up due to the embassy’s shortage of staff.

Muslim Democrat MPs from the South discussed the embassy’s delay in granting visas to haj pilgrims at a party meeting yesterday.

Jae-aming Tortayong of Narathiwat said he thought the difficulties were linked to the controversy surrounding Pol Lt Gen Somkid.

Mr Jae-aming said the dispute over Pol Lt Gen Somkid should not be allowed to hinder pilgrims’ applications for visas to Saudi Arabia.

He called on Pol Lt Gen Somkid to forego the post of assistant national police chief in favour of better ties between the two countries.

Asi Mahamadyankee of Satun said Pol Lt Gen Somkid should make a sacrifice and not take the new job. His refusal to accept the assistant chief position would be the best solution for all, the MP said.

Satun Islamic Committee chairman Ibrahim Adam said about 13,000 Thais were planning to go on the haj to Mecca this year. About 8,000 of these were from the 14 provinces in the South.

Mr Ibrahim said many Muslims were concerned about the Saudi embassy being closed because of the worsening ties between the two countries following Pol Lt Gen Somkid’s promotion.

They were worried they might have to go to a neighbouring country such as Laos or Cambodia to apply for a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.

Mr Abhisit told the meeting the government was trying to address the dispute with Riyadh but he had to ensure that there was due compliance with Thai laws. The prime minister said nobody should politicise this issue.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who is attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said he had phoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Thailand to ask that all Thai pilgrims be issued with their visas.

“After speaking with Mr Ashri, I called Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat and the Religious Affairs Department to ask them to coordinate with the Foreign Ministry’s South Asian Department to help Thai Muslims receive their visas,” Mr Kasit said.

Pheu Thai-Gov’t fence-mending talks on track

Posted by arnon_k On September - 7 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

The five-point Pheu Thai plan for reconciliation with the government has remained on table, party deputy leader Plodprasop Suraswadi said on Tuesday, dismissing speculation about the plan aborted.

“Pheu Thai will not be discouraged nor call off the reconciliation just because someone in the government made offensive remarks,” he said.

The speculation about the collapse of fence-mending talks circulated after Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban voiced scepticism about the opposition’s sincerity by citing continuing attempts to undermine the monarchy.

This prompted a fiery denial from Pheu Thai leader Yongyuth Wichaidit.

Plodprasop said he was surprised by the Suthep-Yongyuth spat since the two had family ties and came from the same hometown, Surat Thani.

He insisted, however, that Yongyuth merely reacted to Suthep’s remarks in his personal capacity, which did not reflect on the party’s stand.

“The reconciliation plan has been endorsed by the Phue Thai executive board,” he said, adding his main opposition party is in the process of naming its representatives for fence-mending talks.

PM assures Saudis over Somkid’s rise

Posted by arnon_k On September - 7 - 2010 2 COMMENTS

The prime minister has given an assurance that the appointment of Pol Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom as an assistant national police chief will not affect his trial over the disappearance of a Saudi businessman.

But Saudi Arabia said yesterday it had been patient long enough and now wanted a series of “terrorising and horrible crimes” solved.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has assigned Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Royal Thai Police to clarify the appointment of Pol Lt Gen Somkid to the Saudi government which has lashed out at Thailand over the promotion.

“It is the Thai government’s duty to explain to them about the police promotion system, the promotion criteria and the fact that the promotion would not affect the trial against Pol Lt Gen Somkid,” Mr Abhisit said yesterday.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok yesterday issued another statement with a tougher tone in response to Thai officials who have defended the appointment.

“For more than 20 years since the occurrence of these shocking, terrorising and horrible crimes and incidents, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its part has shown understanding, patience and extended all means of cooperation to aid the relevant Thai authorities in their investigations to uncover these crimes,” the embassy’s statement said, referring to the disappearance of businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili and the murders of four Saudi diplomatic staff in Bangkok.

The embassy said it understood the case would go to Bangkok Criminal Court on Nov 25 and questioned whether Pol Lt Gen Somkid’s promotion not only violated Thai law but could perhaps hinder the chances of justice being served.

The embassy “urges and anticipates witnessing transparency, justice and non-interference” in the case.

Pol Lt Gen Somkid and four other active and former police officers were indicted on Jan 12 by public prosecutors in connection with the disappearance of Mr al-Ruwaili in 1990.

Mr Suthep, who is also in charge of national security, said yesterday the promotion of Pol Lt Gen Somkid would not be completed until it had received royal endorsement.

He said he would make public details of the letter he would send to the Saudi embassy clarifying the promotion.”Whether Pol Lt Gen Somkid will be found guilty will depend on the judicial system. If he is guilty, it [the promotion] will have a problem,” he said.