Monday, 23 August 2010

Suspected Russian arms dealer Bout allegedly brokered weapons deals in Afghanistan, Angola, DR Congo, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan

Thailand court rules that Viktor Bout, dubbed the 'merchant of death', should face trial in America. See video in report below: Viktor Bout to be extradited after Thai appeals court ruling.

Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to be extradited to US
Report from
By Ben Doherty in Bangkok
Friday 20 August 2010 11.21 BST
The man known as the "merchant of death", the alleged black-market arms dealer Viktor Bout, could be on American soil to face terrorism charges within weeks after a Thai appeals court ruled he must face charges of conspiring to supply Colombian rebels with weapons.

The 43-year-old Russian, who has maintained his innocence throughout two years in a maximum security prison in Thailand, will continue to fight the US's extradition request. His lawyer said he would lodge a petition with the Thai government asking it to block the extradition.

"The defence believes Bout will not be safe in the US and he will not receive a fair trial," Lak Nittiwattanawichan said outside court.

The Thai government is not compelled to extradite Bout, but is almost certain to, given the high profile of the defendant, and strong American pressure. If he is not extradited within three months, he must be released.

Bout has been in jail since March 2008, when he was arrested in a five-star Bangkok hotel in a joint US-Thai sting operation.

Government agents posed as arms buyers for the Colombian rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

According to the US grand jury indictment, Bout told the agents he could supply them with 700-800 surface-to-air missiles, more than 5,000 AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition, as well as C4 explosive, landmines and unmanned aerial drones.

Bout was indicted on four charges, including conspiracy to kill US nationals and conspiracy to provide material support to a proscribed terrorist group.

The US and UN have claimed Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, has been a weapons trafficker since the 1990s, using a fleet of cargo plans to move arms to Africa, Central America and the Middle East.

He is alleged to have brokered weapons deals in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan, and to have armed the forces of the Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

The 2005 movie Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage, is loosely based on the Russian's life.

Bout, who maintains he has never traded in weapons, told his trial he ran a legitimate air cargo business and was in Thailand to discuss selling aircraft to Thais.

Last August, a Thai court ruled Bout should not be extradited because Farc was not a terrorist group but a political one.

The appeals court today overturned that decision, saying Farc was a proscribed terrorist organisation and that Thailand was obliged to extradite Bout in accordance with treaties with the US.

Prosecutors brought six new charges against Bout yesterday, including money laundering and electronic fraud. Those charges will be heard in a US court.

Thailand has been under intense pressure from both US and Russia over Bout's case.

The US state department summoned the Thai ambassador this week "to emphasise how important this judgment is", a department spokesman, Philip Crowley, said.
The Obama administration has previously cited Bout's arrest as an example of co-operation and trust between the two countries.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, discussed Bout's case with his Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya, during a meeting in Hanoi last month, saying the drawn-out appeal process was "beginning to raise questions" and expressing, pointedly, "the hope that Thai justice will not be subject to any pressure".

"We regret this … unlawful, political decision," Lavrov said today during a visit to Armenia, adding that Moscow believed the ruling was made "under very strong external pressure" and would continue to seek Bout's return to Russia.

Bout, dressed in prison-issue shorts and shirt, and manacled in leg irons, hung his head and cried as the verdict was read out. He hugged his wife and daughter before being whisked away by guards.

He did not speak, but his wife, Alla, said the Thai justice system had bowed to US lobbying.

"This is the result of constant pressure from the US government," she said in the courtroom, before breaking down in tears. "This is an unfair decision because the initial court already said it's a political case."

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Price of bread could hit record after Russian wheat export ban

The heatwave and drought enveloping Russia has contributed to the soaring price of wheat...

Report from The Daily Telegraph
By Harry Wallop and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Published: 7:05PM BST Thursday, 05 August 2010
Price of bread could hit record after Russian wheat export ban
The price of a loaf of bread in Britain could hit a record after Russia imposed a ban on all exports of wheat and other grains.

The unprecedented move, instigated by Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, will see a quarter of the total world's wheat exports withdrawn from the market. It comes as Russia suffers from its worst drought in over a century, which has seen much of its harvest wiped out by wildfires.

Though Britain buys little wheat directly from Russia, most loaves on supermarket shelves contain a large proportion of imported flour. Russia's move sent up prices on the wholesale market to a 30-month high in Paris, where European wheat is traded.

Yesterday, Premier Foods, one of Britain's biggest food companies and the owner of Hovis, said the price of a loaf of bread will have to rise, by possibly as much as 10p.

Robert Schofield, chief executive, said: "The size of rise will force us to put a price increase through in the coming months. The retailers have the final decision on how much of that will be passed on to the public."

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average price of a loaf of sliced bread in Britain is £1.19. It was a mere 65p five years ago but shot up during the crisis in food prices during 2007 to 2008, when a similar set of poor harvests, this time in Australia, caused the global price to rise. This in turn set off a series of inflationary spikes in commodities.

A loaf hit a record of £1.27 in the summer of 2008.

If Premier's warning that 10p will be added on, the price of a loaf, one of the very few staples that families buy every day of the week, would hit a record of £1.29.

Martin Deboo, a food analyst from Investec, said: "Experience of 2008's round of inflation would suggest cost side increases from wheat do get passed on to the consumer eventually."

Mintec, a company that specialises in tracking the price of food, estimates that the cost of wheat makes up about 57 per cent of a loaf of bread, with the baking, packaging and distribution of it accounting for the rest.

Nick Peksa, at Mintec, said: "Ironically the harvests in Britain and Canada have been good this summer, but I fear a lot of these price rises have been fuelled by speculators on the back of the Russian problems.

"The chances are the price of bread will go up."

Mr Putin appears to have acted after meteorological experts issued further drought warnings, raising fears that the ground would still be too hard next month to seed the winter crop.

The loss of two crops would force Russia to withdraw from the global export market altogether for up to two years.

Russian sources said Mr Putin had requested Kazhakstan and Belarus, two other major wheat producers, also banned exports.
Abdolreza Abbassanian, chief grain economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said: "This is maximum: it’s a desperate situation because it has caught everybody off guard."