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Thailand: 'Lord of war' could be extradited to US

A court yesterday dismissed charges of money-laundering and wire fraud against the suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, bringing him a step closer to extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges.

But the 43-year-old former Soviet air force officer, nicknamed the "merchant of death", and his allies in Moscow, are expected to wage an intense campaign to stop the extradition, possibly by appealing to Thailand's Prime Minister.

Legs shackled, Mr Bout turned to his lawyer after the verdict and asked him to appeal. He hugged his wife before police commandos escorted him from Bangkok Criminal Court.

"Whether the process drags on depends on what the defence's next move is and also what the government says," said Sirirak Tiyapan of the Thai attorney general's office.

The legal wrangling is the latest twist in a two-year diplomatic tug of war between Washington and Moscow over a man accused of trafficking weapons to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said Mr Bout is an innocent businessman facing a politically motivated extradition. Mr Bout, an inspiration for Hollywood movie Lord of War starring Nicholas Cage, has been held in a Thai maximum-security prison since his arrest in March 2008 in a sting operation in which agents posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.