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Lawyers for an alleged Russian arms dealer arrested in Thailand
Lawyers for an alleged Russian arms dealer arrested in Thailand have asked a fugitive U.S. businessman to testify for their client, a Russian paper said on Wednesday.

Former Russian army officer Viktor Bout, 42, was arrested in Bangkok in March last year during a sting operation led by U.S. agents. The United States accuses Bout of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars' worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms dealings.

Bout, who has spent over a year in a Thai prison, is facing extradition and trial in the U.S. after Thai authorities earlier announced that they would not press charges against the man dubbed "The Merchant of Death' by world media.

The Russian businessman has consistently denied the accusations and recently said his case was fabricated by the U.S. government.

Russian business daily Kommersant said that during Wednesday's hearings, the presiding judge adjourned the proceedings until May 19 so that a Thai Foreign Ministry official with legal expertise could answer questions regarding the existing extradition treaty between Thailand and the U.S. and whether the FARC rebel group is considered a terrorist organization by Thailand.

The judge also attached to the case on Wednesday testimony by Bout's friend and former business adviser, U.S. businessman Richard Chichakli, who is currently residing in Moscow.

Chichakli, whose business in the United States was seized in 2005 in connection with involvement in Bout's alleged illegal arms trade, insists that the U.S. government officials attempted to force him to testify against Bout, and when he refused the FBI raided his house and seized his computer, documents, and over $1 million in assets as part of an investigation into his friend's financial empire.

According to Kommersant, the witness said in his written testimony that the U.S. authorities had launched a "witch hunt" against Bout for a number of economic and political reasons.

The first of these was that Bout had undermined the Western monopoly on the control over natural resources in Africa by setting up a network of more than 50 cargo aircraft around the world as an alternative to transportation provided by the West.

However, UN reports say that Bout used his cargo fleet to facilitate his arms dealings.

Secondly, in Chichakli's opinion, the case is a U.S. attempt to indirectly accuse Russia of providing international terrorists, such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Colombian rebels, with weaponry.

Thai authorities are facing a tough choice, as whichever way they rule is likely to harm relations with either Moscow or Washington. Russia has consistently said that Bout should be freed.


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