The Kremlin was ready to bring Victor Bout back to Russia with love. The infamous Russian arms dealer, currently jailed in Thailand, was 72 hours away from a legal victory that would have sealed his lips and kept him from spilling to U.S. prosecutors the secrets of his dirty trade and his connections to the inner circle of the Kremlin.
Fortune smiled for Bout when a judge in Thailand denied a request for his extradition to New York, where he is wanted on terrorism charges. But three days after the judge’s decision, Thai prosecutors filed an appeal, leaving Bout in jail for a month.
The Russian government has fiercely defended Bout in Thailand, using all means short of military intervention to let their Thai interlocutors know how serious they are. It would seem that Bout is a valuable asset to the Kremlin. It is hard to imagine the current regime in Moscow would allow anyone to make hundreds of millions of dollars without a nod, if not a cover, when it comes to such sensitive business.
The Kremlin seems dead serious about Bout. The mere thought that he could be responding to prosecutors’ questions in New York apparently sends shivers down the spines of some high-ranking Russian government officials. One of these is likely Igor Sechin, former deputy head of the presidential administration and now the first deputy premier under his close ally Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
According to a report by Stratfor, an American analytic outfit, Bout served with Igor Sechin in Mozambique in the 1980s. Even more interesting is Sechin’s post-African career: According to the same report, he was “the USSR’s point man for weapons smuggling to much of Latin America and the Middle East.”
Later in the 1990s, Sechin, together with current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, worked with Putin in the St Petersburg mayor’s office. Sechin was the chief of staff for then Deputy Mayor Putin, who was responsible at the time for international relations.
The American hunt for Victor Bout is in jeopardy if the Justice Department, State Department and Thai prosecutors cannot find sufficient arguments to convince the judge to reverse his decision. It could take years for U.S. law enforcement to conceive and carry out a new operation to bring Bout to American shores.
If he lands in Moscow, Bout stands a good chance of either living a quiet life or just as quietly disappearing. The choice will likely not be his to make, but in either case, he’ll have nothing to worry about.
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Nothing To Worry A Bout?
Dmitry Sidorov, 15.08.2009