Russian dubbed the Merchant of Death was arrested at Bangkok hotel after sting by US agents posing as Farc rebels from Colombia
The man described as the world's most notorious arms smuggler faces extradition to the US on terrorism charges when he appears in a Thai court today.
Viktor Bout, 41, a Russian dubbed the Merchant of Death, appeared shackled hand and foot at the Bangkok court. He wore prison-issue orange shorts and T-shirt with the number 8 chalked on the back. Bout was seized at a Bangkok luxury hotel in March in the culmination of a year-long sting by US agents. He said nothing as he arrived for the hearing, which had been repeatedly delayed.
His defence lawyer, Preecha Prasertsak, announced he had petitioned the court to dismiss the proceedings on four terrorism conspiracy counts filed in the US on the grounds the former Soviet air force officer had been held illegally.
The judges adjourned for 30 minutes but then said they would consider Preecha's appeal at another hearing to be fixed later. "My client is innocent," Preecha said.
Bout has denied any wrongdoing. He has long been one of the world's most wanted men for arms smuggling. He has a reputation for busting UN weapons embargoes to supply infamous warlords like Liberia's Charles Taylor.
If extradited to the US and convicted he faces life imprisonment on indictments including conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing material support to terrorists.
The charges are based on conversations recorded at a Bangkok luxury hotel in March between Bout and US Drug Enforcement Agency agents who were posing as Colombian Farc rebels. Washington lists Farc as a terrorist group.
US prosecutors allege Bout offered to supply 700 surface-to-air missiles, guns, state-of-the-art helicopters and aircraft capable of firing missiles. The undercover agents had penetrated Bout's inner circle and won his trust, prosecutors say.
Bout maintains he has been held unlawfully on "fabricated American accusations". He stands accused of being a global gun-runner to Africa, the Middle East and South America, running a fleet of cargo planes since the early 1990s. His exploits were the template for the 2005 movie Lord of War, in which Nicolas Cage portrayed a Russian arms smuggler.
The Thai extradition proceedings became bogged down after Bout lost several lawyers. A June hearing was cancelled when his solicitor failed to show up complaining of heart problems, while a July date went the same way when the court-appointed lawyer said he had clashing cases and did not appear.
The hearings are due to be wrapped up by early next month when Bout's defence will get its chance to present witnesses and evidence to counter the charges.