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News Analysis
U.S. Appeals to Extradite Russia's Alleged "Merchant of Death"
By Richard S. Ehrlich
Bangkok Correspondent
The DEA said Mr. Bout's computer memory stick revealed this illustration of a Russian AT-4 Spigot missile system that has a maximum range of 2,000-2,500 meters and can penetrate up to 400-460mm of armor, depending on the type of missile used. It was posted online by FAS. Photo by Richard S. Ehrlich.

BANGKOK, Thailand — Newly obtained documents, prepared by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), portray an elaborate sting operation to capture alleged weapons trafficker Viktor Bout in Bangkok, and America's current appeal to extradite him to New York.

But the documents, made public last week, do not confirm that Mr. Bout had access to the weapons, or where the arms and ammunition were located.

Mr. Bout, a Russian citizen, has been dubbed "The Merchant of Death" for his long years as an alleged international weapons dealer involved in illegal and legal transfers.

The U.S. indictment said when Mr. Bout was in Bangkok last year, he "agreed to provide the FARC [Colombian rebels] with millions of dollars worth of weapons to be used, among other things, to kill nationals of the United States in Colombia" who are "officers and employees of the United States" on "official duties."

U.S. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said in Bangkok on October 13 that he told Thai officials Mr. Bout "stands charged with extremely serious crimes against Americans."

"Exhibit 5" is described by the DEA as "notes handwritten by Bout during the meeting regarding the details of the weapons deal" in Bangkok, and was posted online by FAS.
Photo by Richard S. Ehrlich

The U.S. case against Mr. Bout fell apart in August when Bangkok's Criminal Court dropped all charges against him.

The Thai judge said Bangkok "does not have the authority to punish actions done by foreigners against other foreigners in another country."

The newly released documents are from America's desperate appeal, which is winding its way through Thailand's justice system.

The documents do not deal with the previous judge's decision about Thai jurisdiction over punishing foreigners acting against other foreigners outside of Thailand, and instead focus on demanding Mr. Bout be extradited.

Mr. Bout, 42, was arrested in March 2008 in a Bangkok hotel, during a U.S.-led sting operation, and remains caged in a Bangkok prison.

He has denied all charges of wrongdoing.

The DEA's "rebuttal affidavit" and "evidence" were displayed online last week by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a Washington-based group founded in 1945 by scientists who developed the world's first atomic bombs.

"Documents provided to the Federation of American Scientists, by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, provide additional details about the case against alleged arms trafficker Viktor Bout, but many important questions remain — publicly — unanswered," FAS said.

The scientists appeared concerned about sophisticated weapons allegedly mentioned by Mr. Bout, and their possible availability on the international blackmarket.

The documents include photocopies of items purportedly seized from Mr. Bout in Bangkok when he was arrested.

"Exhibit 1" in the "Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition," dated February 17, 2009, is an e-mail from "Agregatum Mobile" through gmail.com, to "Amigo" — also known as "bogotazo32" — at yahoo.com which reads:
"Buenos Dias! This is e mail we can use for communication Best Regards Friend of Andrew."

The DEA said "records maintained by the e-mail service provider of the gmail.com e-mail address" indicated it was actually from Mr. Bout to a U.S.-paid DEA "confidential source" who Mr. Bout naively trusted.

Transcripts of written, telephone, and conversation communication appear vital to the U.S. case against Mr. Bout.

In sworn affidavits, the DEA describes nicknames, coded language, wiretapped phone conversations, and furtive e-mails to and from Andrew Smulian and others as secretive messages about Mr. Bout's alleged intentions in Bangkok.

Mr. Smulian was later jailed in the U.S. after his arrest on charges of being Mr. Bout's colleague in crime.

The documents include "pamphlets on Soviet-era cargo planes that Bout, in Bangkok, allegedly recommended for delivering weapons to the FARC," and "a map of South America that Bout reportedly used in discussions about the locations of American radar stations."

An intriguing document, "Exhibit 5," is described by the DEA as "notes handwritten by Bout during the meeting regarding the details of the weapons deal" in Bangkok.

"The notes include short-hand references to various weapons, including 'AA' or anti-aircraft, believed to be a reference to Igla missiles; 'AK-47' [assault rifles]; 'UAV' unmanned aerial vehicle; 10,000,000 '7,62 x 54' ammunition used in Russian Dragunov sniper rifles and PKM machine guns; RPG-7 and RPG-22 rocket launchers; and 'AG-17,' presumably a reference to the AGS-17 30mm automatic grenade launcher," FAS said.

"Some of the notes are more cryptic, including references to 500 '60 mm', 200 '82 mm' and 40 '120 mm.' Presumably, these are references to mortars since 60mm, 82mm and 120mm are all common calibers for mortar bombs," FAS said.

The DEA said it also seized a computer memory stick from Mr. Bout, which revealed technical military documents describing a missile.

"It appears that missile on offer was the AT-4 Spigot, a wire-guided Russian missile system that has a maximum range of 2,000-2,500 meters and can penetrate up to 400-460mm of armor, depending on the type of missile used," FAS said.

FAS said the documents they received, from the "United States of America vs. Viktor Bout" case, do not confirm if Mr. Bout or his colleague "actually had access to the weapons that they allegedly promised to deliver to the FARC," which Washington considers a terrorist group.

"This question is particularly important in regards to the 100 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles," which can shoot down military and commercial planes.

It was also unclear where the weapons were located, despite allegations some were available in Bulgaria, FAS said.



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Mr. Richard S. Ehrlich serves as the Bangkok correspondent for The Seoul Times. He earned his MS degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, and was awarded their Foreign Correspondents Award. Mr. Ehrlich has reported news from Asia for world's premier news organizations since 1978. He co-authored "Hello My Big Big Honey!," a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is http://www.asia-correspondent.110mb.com

 

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