BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. Ambassador to Thailand warned that bribes, lies and a plot to have two U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested in Bangkok had "infected" the extradition trial of alleged Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout to New York, and the envoy suggested Thailand arrange testimony to correct the problems, according to two U.S. cables released by Wikileaks.

"There have been disturbing indications that Bout's xxxxxxxxxx and Russian supporters have been using money and influence in an attempt to block extradition," said a cable by U.S. Ambassador Eric John, with "x's" masking the identity of who the ambassador suspected.

"The most egregious example was the false testimony of xxxxxxxxxx that Bout was in Thailand as part of government-to-government submarine deal," his cable said, apparently indicating a different concealed name.

"Bout's associates had been able to influence testimony given by xxxxxxxxxx," said the cable released by Wikileaks on Wednesday (December 1).

Bangkok later extradited Mr. Bout on November 16 to New York where he is awaiting trial for an alleged plot to kill Americans in Colombia with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons, which he agreed in 2008 to sell to the two DEA agents who posed as guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Mr. Bout pled not guilty in New York after Russia's foreign ministry denounced Thailand for the "illegal extradition."

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva denied Moscow's complaint that Bangkok kneeled to U.S. pressure, and said his decision to expel the Russian was correct.

The U.S. cable, titled: "SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR ENGAGES PM ABHISIT AND DEFENSE MINISTER ON VIKTOR BOUT EXTRADITION CASE," was flagged "SECRET BANGKOK 000385," dated February 13, 2009, and "Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John."

Copies were sent to the U.S. State Department, the American Embassy in Moscow, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, DEA's headquarters in Washington, the U.S. Defense Secretary, Department of Justice, Pacific Command in Hawaii, the CIA and National Security Council.

"Expressing growing concern about the extradition proceedings, the Ambassador then described evidence showing that the extradition proceedings against Bout have become tainted as a result of the efforts by Bout's associates to bribe Thai officials," the cable said, without elaborating on how many Thais were involved or their role in the case.

In a second cable, dated August 13, 2009, Ambassador John said there were "significant indications that the Russians were trying to use bribes to influence the outcome of the case."

The first cable's use of the past tense verb -- "infected" -- made it appear that at least one bribe may have already been paid by February 2009 when it said:

"After listening to the evidence provided by the Ambassador suggesting that bribery had infected the Bout proceedings, Abhisit committed to addressing any 'irregularities' in the extradition case through the 'appropriate channels.'

"At the conclusion of the meeting, the Prime Minister sought the identity of the individuals involved in the bribery schemes, and the DOJ [U.S. Department of Justice] Attache, who accompanied the Ambassador to the meeting, supplied an aide to the PM with the requested information," the first cable said.

"In particular, the Ambassador detailed...a scheme to arrest and thereby embarrass two U.S. diplomats -- i.e., DEA agents assigned to the Bout investigation -- on meritless charges of participating in illegal recordings of Bout on the day of his arrest," the first cable said without elaborating.

During their February 12, 2009 meeting, Ambassador John complained to Thailand's prime minister that Bangkok failed to extradite an Iranian to America in 2008, and warned against making the same mistake twice.

"The Ambassador also reminded the PM of the recent case of Jamshid Ghassemi, in which the Thai authorities denied a U.S. extradition request under apparent pressure from Iran, and stressed the importance of avoiding a similar result here."

Mr. Ghassemi is under indictment in San Diego, California, for alleged violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and money laundering, relating to his conspiracy to acquire accelerometers which could be used in missile navigation.

The next day, Ambassador John met Thailand's defense minister.

"During a February 13 introductory call, the Ambassador highlighted to Minister of Defense Prawit Wongsuwan the importance the USG [U.S. government] places on the Bout extradition proceedings," the first cable said.

The submarine mentioned in the first cable referred to confusing statements during Mr. Bout's trial when a Thai reportedly testified that he thought an unidentified Russian would arrive in Bangkok to discuss a possible submarine sale to Thailand -- but it was unclear if Mr. Bout was the Russian involved, or if the deal even existed.

Ambassador John also asked Thailand to arrange someone to testify at the trial to correct the problems.

"In particular, the Ambassador suggested that testimony from an authoritative witness from the Royal Thai Navy or the Ministry of Defense should be offered to repudiate the xxxxxxxxxx statement and make clear that the RTG [Royal Thai government] supports the extradition request," the first cable said.

Mr. Bout's lawyer denied his client was the unidentified Russian linked to any submarine, and the topic disappeared from subsequent updates on the case.

The last word of both cables is simply "JOHN" indicating Ambassador John signed off on the wording, with some references to himself in third person.

"When he (Ambassador John) came to meet me, he did not have any doubts or put pressure," Prime Minister Abhisit said on Thursday (December 2), responding to the release of the cable by Wikileaks.

"He simply expressed concern over reports that 'influential people' may try to interfere in the case.

"I gave assurances to him that there will be no interference on the case, and if the U.S. diplomat has any doubts, the Thai government will verify the case for him," Mr. Abhisit said.

In the August 13, 2009 cable, also released by Wikileaks on Wednesday (December 1), Ambassador John revealed how the U.S. demand for Mr. Bout's extradition was faltering.

Expressing his desperation, the ambassador's second cable said the U.S. State Department "should seriously consider asking Belgium, which issued an arrest warrant for Bout in 2002 for money laundering and conspiracy; Colombia, in the case of the FARC; and African countries which have suffered greatly from Bout's arms trade in the past, to weigh in with the RTG (Royal Thai government)," to strengthen the U.S. extradition request.

"I can't comment on allegedly classified documents," U.S. Embassy Press Attache Walter Braunohler said on Thursday (December 2) in response to e-mailed questions about the cables.

"We are committed to continued engagement with Thailand and with other countries around the world. Our relationships are still guided by national and mutual interests, and mutual respect. And to the extent that the trust inherent in this engagement has been compromised, we will work as hard as we can to rebuild this trust," Mr. Braunohler said.

"Undoubtedly, the illegal extradition of Bout is a result of the unprecedented political pressure on the Thai government and the judicial authorities by the United States," a Russian foreign ministry statement said on November 16, when Mr. Bout was suddenly bundled onto a plane in Bangkok for a secretive extradition flight to New York.

The Russian Embassy did not respond on Thursday (December 2) to e-mailed questions about the cables.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of Hello My Big Big Honey!, a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is: Asia Correspondent

(Copyright 2010 Richard S Ehrlich)