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US to Get Custody of Russian Arms Dealer

Reputed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is expected to be transferred from a Thai prison to the United States on Wednesday to stand trial on weapons-trafficking charges.

Security officials in Bangkok have confirmed to reporters that Bout's extradition is imminent, without giving precise details of when and how he will be turned over to U.S. authorities. News reports in the Thai capital say a squad of 50 commandos will escort the 43-year-old Russian from his cell to the airport.

Bout is sometimes called "the merchant of death" for his longtime involvement in supplying weapons to many armies and militant groups around the world. He has been in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison in Thailand, where he was arrested in March 2008 in a "sting" operation by American agents pretending to be acting on behalf of Colombia's FARC rebels.

Bout is accused of offering to sell sophisticated weapons – including surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drone aircraft and anti-tank weapons – to the leftist rebels. Charges against him include fraud and money laundering.

A lengthy legal struggle has enveloped U.S. efforts to get Bout extradited, but Thailand's highest appeals court delivered an irrevocable ruling last week ordering him transferred.

The Russian government has strenuously opposed efforts to extradite Bout to the U.S. Analysts say Bout has extensive knowledge of Russian intelligence and military actions around the world over the last two decades.

U.S. prosecutors have accused Bout of using a fleet of cargo planes to transport weapons and military equipment across Africa, the Middle East and South America. His activities are said to have inspired the 2005 Hollywood movie Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage.

The former Soviet air force officer denies the charges against him. He says he is a legitimate businessman operating an air freight company.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.