Scott Shane, WashingtonAugust 31, 2010
Viktor Bout is escorted into a Bangkok court. Photo: AFP
VIKTOR Bout, the Russian accused of a 15-year run as one of the world's biggest arms traffickers and now facing extradition from Thailand, is thought to be a consummate deal-maker.
His future may hang on whether he can strike one last bargain: trading what American officials believe is his vast insider's knowledge of global criminal networks in exchange for a reprieve from spending the rest of his life in prison.
Rumours in Bangkok suggest the Russians and Americans are in a bidding war over the extradition, with Russia offering Thailand cut-rate oil and Americans offering military hardware.
Both sides have denied such bargaining. Thai officials say they must process a second US request for extradition for money laundering before Bout can be put on the US jet that arrived last week to pick him up.
US officials were relieved when a Thai court approved the extradition of Bout from Bangkok, where he has been incarcerated since 2008. But they are wary of declaring victory in a long diplomatic wrangle.
Since the early 1990s, Bout has mastered the trade and transport that fuel drug cartels, terrorism networks and insurgent movements from Colombia to Afghanistan, according to former officials. He is believed to understand the murky intersection of the Russian military, intelligence and organised crime.
He has shown no inclination to co-operate. He has portrayed himself as an honest businessman who would transport whatever he was paid to carry and on his website he calls himself a born salesman.
He has labelled as ridiculous US charges that he agreed to sell shoulder-fired missiles to Drug Enforcement Administration agents posing as members of a Colombian leftist guerilla group.
But if the bravado falters when he faces prosecutors in New York, he has plenty to tell, said Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book about him, Merchant of Death.
''He knows a great deal about how weapons reach the Taliban, and how they get to militants in Somalia and Yemen,'' Farah said. ''He knows a lot about Russian intelligence as it's been restructured under [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin.''
NEW YORK TIMES