ACCUSED arms dealer Viktor Bout arrived in New York from Thailand today as his wife claimed he was a pawn in a political game between the US and Russia.
The Russian, who was extradited aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration charter plane, was taken to a high-security prison in Manhattan.
The Justice Department said he was due to appear in US federal court tomorrow before District Judge Shira Scheindlin.
“Viktor Bout has been indicted in the United States, but his alleged arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts in Africa has been a cause of concern around the world. His extradition is a victory for the rule of law worldwide,” US Attorney-General Eric Holder said in a statement.
But Alla Bout said there were no grounds for the sudden extradition of her husband while legal wrangling was still ongoing in Thailand.
“The decision of the Thai government is totally against legal procedures and the law,” she told AFP.
Escorted by dozens of armed police commandos and with snipers deployed along the route, Bout was whisked from a maximum-security Bangkok prison to the waiting US government plane before his wife had a chance to say goodbye.
The extradition of the so-called “Merchant of Death” on terrorism charges prompted fresh fury from Russia, adding to speculation he may have knowledge of potentially damaging information – something his wife denied.
“Viktor doesn’t have any secrets that can be useful to the United States. I think the US will play him as a card in their political game with the Russian government,” she said.
Mrs Bout said she had only heard about her husband’s extradition from Thai media, and neither the Russian embassy nor Mr Bout’s lawyer was informed.
“I know that Viktor’s passport is still at the Russian embassy,” she said.
“It appears that the United States government was informed in advance because it managed to send an airplane and officials to escort him to the United States.
“So it has to be a decision which was taken under threat – either a political threat or for money.
“The fact that they didn’t even allow me to say goodbye to my husband speaks for itself – the extradition was definitely done in secret.”
The 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot has been fighting extradition on terrorism charges since his March 2008 arrest after a sting operation in Bangkok involving undercover US agents posing as Colombian FARC rebels.
The inspiration for the Hollywood film “Lord of War”, Mr Bout has been accused of using a fleet of cargo planes to deliver arms in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
He has repeatedly denied suggestions that he was a former KGB agent and maintains that he ran a legitimate air cargo business.
His lawyers tried to stall the extradition with a series of legal challenges and his wife questioned whether he would be given a fair trial.
“I think the government of the United States will do its utmost to prove Viktor’s guilt. They will try hard to do that despite the fact that for 10 years, no one managed to do so,” she said.
“They will justify it by forging evidence and we know in the United States he will probably face a jury … It is very hard to believe the jury will be capable of making the fair decision in this case.”
Mr Bout, who speaks six languages and has used at least seven separate identities, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted in the US on charges including conspiracy to kill US nationals and providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.
Mrs Bout moved to Thailand after her husband’s arrest and rented a small apartment near the prison where he was held, visiting him every day with his lunch. On Tuesday she arrived just minutes after he was taken away.
She now plans to return to Russia to prepare for her next move.
“I have to go back to my motherland, to get some strength and find lawyers to continue to fight for my husband,” she said