An appeals court in Thailand has ruled that alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout should be extradited to the United States to face trial. Bout is accused of selling weapons that fueled conflicts and armed dictators across Africa and in the Middle East.
The Thai appeals court on Friday said that Bout must be extradited within three months to the United States. He faces up to life in prison for conspiracy to kill Americans and sell weapons to a terrorist group.
Bout denies the allegations.
Russian officials have questioned the decision. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Moscow would continue to pursue Bout's release.
After the ruling, Bout, shackled and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, hugged his wife and daughter.
His wife, Alla Bout, told journalists the decision is unjust. She says it is obvious that this is a political case and the whole world understands this. She says the American government put a lot of pressure on the Thai court. She also says the U.S. government said it would put pressure on Thailand until Bout was extradited.
Bout was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 in an undercover operation involving U.S. and Thai authorities.
U.S. agents posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. They accuse Bout of offering to sell them missiles and other weapons that would be used against U.S. targets.
Washington considers FARC a terrorist organization and supports Colombian military efforts against the group.
The decision overturns a lower court's rejection of the extradition request last year. The lower court said Bout could not be sent to the U.S. because Thailand does not recognize FARC as a terrorist group.
The latest decision will be welcomed in Washington.
The U.S. State Department had called in the Thai ambassador to emphasize the case was of the highest priority.
A group of U.S. lawmakers said if Bout were released he would likely sell weapons again and that denying extradition could harm U.S.-Thai relations.
Russian officials, on the other hand, have condemned Bout's arrest.
A Thai judge on the case had earlier expressed concerns about its effects on relations with either the United States or Russia.
Bout's lawyer, Lak Nitiwatanavichan, says they will make a final appeal to the Thai government to free him. "The government has the authority. Because the agreement between Thailand and the United States about the extradition. The final decision is belonging to the government," he said.
The United Nations says Bout supplied weapons to some of the world's worst conflicts including Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
U.S. authorities say he was close friends with dictators, including former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is now on trial for war crimes.