NEW YORK (CBS/AP) He's been dubbed the "Merchant of Death" and is said to have been the inspiration for Nicolas Cage's arms dealer in "Lord of War," and now alleged Russian weapons trader Viktor Bout is on a private jet from Thailand to New York to face terrorism charges.
The extradition was years in the making after a prolonged tug of war between Russia and the U.S. in Thai courts, each side arguing the other is mistaken as to who Bout really is.
Russia claims Bout is a respected businessman who has never sold guns and that, as a Russian citizen, he should be released from Thai custody and returned home. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the move by the U.S. "unlawful."
The statement charged that Bout's extradition was the result of "unprecedented political pressure from the USA on the government and judicial authorities of Thailand."
American officials say Bout ran a massive arms trafficking network encompassing Africa, Afganistan and South America. He faces charges stemming from a 2008 indictment of selling arms to a terrorist group and conspiring to kill American citizens.
Bout has allegedly supplied weapons that fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa, with clients including Liberia's Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and both sides in Angola's civil war.
Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who is reputed to have been one of the world's most prolific arms dealers, was arrested at a Bangkok luxury hotel in March 2008 as part of a sting led by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
The head of a lucrative air transport empire, Bout had long evaded U.N. and U.S. sanctions aimed at blocking his financial activities and restricting his travel. He claims he ran a legitimate business and never sold weapons, and fought hard to avoid extradition.
If Bout's alleged life's work seems made for Hollywood his capture could make a good sequel.
Once the Thai courts finally ruled in favor of extradition Bout was allegedly whisked away by black-clad Thai commandos, without notifying Russian officials or even Bout's wife Anna, according to Russian officials and Bout's Thai lawyer.
There was even a decoy convoy to take him to the airport. Thai police said the 43-year-old was put aboard a plane that departed Bangkok at about 1:30 a.m. EST in the custody of eight U.S. officials. Bout wore a bulletproof vest and ballistic helmet over a blue track suit as he boarded the plane.
In New York, a law enforcement official said Bout was expected to arrive there around 9 p.m. EST Tuesday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, declined to name the airport.
If convicted, Bout faces a maximum of life in prison.