|Commandos escorted Viktor Bout to a jet in Bangkok for the trip to the United States. (Associated Press)|
WASHINGTON — Accused Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout was flown from Bangkok to suburban New York yesterday in a chartered US plane, extradited in manacles despite a final outraged push by Russian diplomats to persuade Thailand to release him instead, current and former American officials said.
Bout arrived late last night at the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
The extradition followed a bruising diplomatic tug-of-war between the United States and Russia that shows no sign of letting up and could jeopardize cooperation on arms control, nuclear weapons curbs, and the war in Afghanistan.
A former Soviet military officer and air cargo executive nicknamed the “Merchant of Death’’ by critics, Bout had been accused of arming failed states and insurgents across the Third World since the 1990s, but he had never been arrested.
Thailand’s government ordered Bout, 43, placed in American custody yesterday, 20 months after his March 2008 arrest in a sting operation led by US narcotics agents. Since then, the wealthy businessman — estimated by the United States to be worth $6 billion — has been in a Thai jail.
Bout was to be transported from Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City, to downtown Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Bout faces US charges related to his alleged gun-running empire, a prosecution that American officials describe as a milestone in international efforts to cripple the flow of illicit weapons.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted with strong words after Bout was hustled from a Thai prison to a waiting jet. Russia branded the extradition “unlawful,’’ prompted by “unprecedented political pressure from the USA.’’