A court in Thailand has rejected a request by the United States to extradite Viktor Bout, an alleged Russian arms smuggler believed to have fueled conflicts around the world. The ruling is a set-back to Washington's efforts to see Bout face trial in the U.S. for attempting to sell weapons to Colombian rebels.
The Thai court said it would not extradite Viktor Bout to the U.S. even with evidence that he intended to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC.
The court said Thailand, unlike the United States, did not recognize the FARC as a terrorist group but as a political organization.
As Bout was led from the court hearing, shackled and in an orange prison uniform, he held up two fingers to journalists in a sign of victory and said "rejoice" in Russian.
James Entwistle is the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. He attended the hearing and told journalists they were disappointed and mystified at the ruling.
"We think the facts of the case, the relevant Thai law, and the terms of our bilateral extradition treaty clearly support the extradition of Viktor Bout to the United States to stand trial on serious terrorism charges," said Entwistel.
Bout was arrested last year at a Bangkok hotel in a joint Thai-U.S. undercover operation.
U.S. agents posed as FARC rebels looking to buy millions of dollars in missiles and other weapons from Bout. Washington says Bout's weapons could have been used against Americans.
Despite the decision against the extradition, Entwistle highly praised the Thai government's efforts in the Bout case and said the ruling would not affect U.S.-Thai relations.
"We'll consult with the Thai government," he said. "We understand they've made clear their intention to appeal this decision and we will support that in any way that we can."
Viktor Bout was dubbed the "merchant of death" for allegedly being one of the biggest arms smugglers in the world.
He is accused of selling weapons to the Taleban in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as African dictators and warlords.
The Thai court said prosecutors have three days to appeal the ruling.