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Wife of accused arms dealer says she plans to sue Thai officials

From Vee Intarakratug, For CNN
  • Alla Bout says Thai officials caved in to political pressure from the United States
  • The U.S. intensified its campaign against her husband after the September 11 attacks, she says
  • "The so-called 'Merchant of Death' is now a federal inmate," a U.S. prosecutor says
  • Viktor Bout faces charges of conspiracy to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- The wife of suspected international arms dealer Viktor Bout said Monday that her husband was illegally extradited to the United States -- and she plans to take legal action against those responsible.

"It's definitely directed at [the] Thai government and the prime minister and those persons who signed the release of Viktor Bout onto the hands of U.S. authority, because they ...breached the law of their own country," Alla Bout told reporters in Bangkok.

Alla Bout said Thai officials caved in to political pressure from the United States, which she claimed had been describing her husband as an alleged "Merchant of Death" for years -- and intensified their campaign after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Reading between the lines of the media reports, you can see now a message that's very clear: we have not got [Osama] bin Laden yet, but we have got Viktor Bout, and that's the second best," she said.

Alla Bout later told reporters that she hoped to convince the Thai government to bring he husband back to Thailand and release him.

Viktor Bout is now in U.S. custody awaiting trial on charges that he agreed to sell millions of dollars of weapons to a Colombian narco-terrorist organization. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a U.S. courtroom in New York to four counts of terror-related crimes.

Since his extradition, Russia has urged U.S. authorities for a fair hearing in the case.

"Our diplomats have been instructed to carry out all necessary measures to protect Viktor Bout's interests," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Sazonov said.

"Viktor Bout needs support," he said, adding that Russia will provide him with a lawyer if necessary.

The alleged arms dealer faces charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. In this case, that would be the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.

"The so-called 'Merchant of Death' is now a federal inmate," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said last week.

He said if Bout is convicted on all counts, he could face a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. Bharara also announced an unsealed guilty plea of an alleged Bout associate, Andrew Smulian, on the charges.

The Justice Department said that between November 2007 and March 2008, Bout agreed to sell millions of dollars of weapons to the FARC, called the "world's largest supplier of cocaine" and dedicated to the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Colombian government.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents led a sting operation by posing as FARC members, and Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008, where he remained in custody until last Tuesday.

Viktor Bout had agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the government said. In a meeting recorded in Thailand in March 2008, he said he could have the material airdropped to the FARC and offered to sell two cargo planes as well, the government alleges.

Bharara said Bout indicated that he wanted the weapons to be used against U.S. personnel in Colombia. He indicated that the United States was his enemy and that the FARC's battles against the United States were his as well, the government said.

Thai officials arrested him after that meeting.

Bout arrived in New York late Tuesday, after being extradited from Thailand. The Russian citizen and former Soviet military officer is being held in a high-security prison in Manhattan until his trial, the Justice Department said.