Wikileaks: Citing Bribe Attempts, US Sought Obama Intervention in Bout Case – The Irrawaddy

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http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=20235

BANGKOK—The United States Embassy in Bangkok sought the direct intervention of President Barack Obama as frustration grew over the Viktor Bout extradition case, according to two diplomatic cables released on Thursday by Wikileaks.

US Ambassador to Thailand Eric John recommended that President Obama telephone Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva about the case, as part of a “multi-pronged effort” that would have brought US Attorney-General Eric Holder and the US Mission at the United Nations as well as countries such as Belgium, Colombia, Sierra Leone and Liberia into play to up the ante on the Thai authorities after the Aug. 11, 2009, Lower Court ruling against the extradition of Bout to the United States.

The cables suggested that the Colombian government be approached to seek extradition of Bout, while countries named in various United Nations reports outlining allegations that Bout trafficked weapons to conflict zones, also be engaged in the process.

The United States believed that Russians were attempting to sway Thai officials, citing “significant indications that the Russians were trying to use bribes to influence the outcome of the case” and mentioning that “there have been disturbing indications that Bout’s and Russian supporters have been using money and influence in an attempt to block extradition.”

Wikileaks redacted the name of the person identified as a supporter in the case, perhaps after criticism by human rights groups that the security of individuals could be compromised by the publication of the diplomatic cables.

The United States and Russia engaged in a vitriolic war of words over Bout, an alleged arms trafficker and former Soviet Union military officer. Russia disputes the American allegations against Bout, who was ultimately extradited to the US on Nov. 16, where he faces terrorism charges. A hearing is due to take place in New York on Jan. 10, 2011.

According to Bangkok embassy cables, the United States was angered by Russia’s attempts to portray Bout as a legitimate businessman and diplomatic interlocutor between Bangkok and Moscow. “The most egregious example [of Russian attempts to block Bout’s extradition to the U.S] was the false testimony of [deleted] that Bout was in Thailand as part of government-to-government submarine deal,” the cable alleged.

The Thai Navy, which along with the Thai police, attorney-general and Foreign Ministry was praised by Ambassador John, subsequently issued a letter rebutting the alleged false testimony, after Ambassador John requested such a rebuttal from Thailand’s Defense Minister and Navy head.

The United States took issue with the Thai court’s “characterization of the FARC as a legitimate political actor,” given that Washington regards the group as a terrorist organization, as does the European Union. This categorization was central to the August 2009 refusal to extradite Bout, which prompted the second of the Bangkok cables just released.

Ambassador John linked the Thai ruling to Thailand’s own domestic political concerns, suggesting that the FARC judgment “would suggest that insurgent groups in southern Thailand are likewise political in nature, perhaps outside the scope of Thailand’s new counter terrorism laws.”

The US Embassy hinted that the failure to extradite Bout to the United States could have implications for the Thai government’s pursuit of its best-known fugitive. According to one of the cables, the matter was raised with Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who earlier took part in the anti-Thaksin “yellowshirt” protests in late 2008, which occupied Thailand’s Government House and later Bangkok’s international airports. The cable outlined that “this decision comes at the same time Thailand is pursuing extradition of fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra for abuse of power/corruption-related charges; the judge’s ruling would also seem to undermine RTG positions in their Thaksin extradition effort.”

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