'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout extradition stalls

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout at the Criminal Court in Bangkok (4 October)
Image caption Viktor Bout is alleged to have sold arms to warlords in Africa and Afghanistan

A Thai court has rejected a request to drop charges of money laundering and fraud against suspected Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, stalling his extradition to the US.

Mr Bout was to be extradited in August, to face trial for conspiring to sell weapons to a Colombian rebel group.

But it was postponed after the new charges led to legal complications.

The US and Russia have been squabbling over his fate since his 2008 arrest in a joint Thai-US sting operation.

After more than 15 years of allegedly running guns to African warlords and Islamic militants, Mr Bout was arrested at a Bangkok hotel by US agents posing as Colombian Farc rebels, after he allegedly tried to sell them weapons.

Mr Bout, dubbed the Merchant of Death by a British politician, is pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy to sell arms to Colombian rebels.

He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

Legal bottleneck

An appeals court ordered Mr Bout's extradition on 20 August, and ruled that it must take place within three months.

His extradition was delayed by a legal bottleneck over the extra charges of money laundering and fraud, lodged by the US against Mr Bout in February.

The Bangkok Criminal Court rejected a US and Thai request to drop the charges, meaning new legal proceedings must be launched.

If the case drags out, the extradition order will expire and a two-and-a-half-year process will have to start all over again.

Moscow has been demanding his release, saying that Mr Bout is an innocent businessman.

Mr Bout, a former Russian air force officer, is thought to have knowledge of Russia's military and intelligence operations.

Analysts say Moscow is perhaps worried he might turn state witness on trial in the US, and there may be some secrets they would rather not have him spill.

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