Thai court clears gunrunner's extradition

Bangkok-based arms trader to be handed over to India for alleged involvement in gun smuggling to Naga rebels.

    Thai court clears gunrunner's extradition
    The NSCN-IM has been negotiating with the Indian government since the late 1990s [File: Subir Bhaumik/Al Jazeera]

    A court in Thailand has ordered the extradition of a Bangkok-based clandestine trader Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich alias, "Willy," to India after receiving "robust evidence" of his alleged involvement in gun smuggling to rebels in northeast India.

    Thai police say that Willy will be extradited to India only if his appeal against the court order is not upheld.

    "Willy's arrest is provisional and dependent on the ultimate fate of the extradition request," Thai Police Col Charoen Sisasalak told Al Jazeera on Monday.

    Willy has thirty days within which he can appeal to a higher court against the extradition order.

    But if he does not appeal or if his appeal falls through, Willy would be on his way to India to stand trial for mediating a deal between India’s Naga rebels and Chinese ordnance companies for supply of weapons worth between $1.5 to 2m.

    Indian officials say the weapons consignment was to be supplied by a subsidiary of the Chinese ordnance giant Norinco and shipped from Beihei port in South China sea to somewhere south of the Bangladeshi tourist resort town of Cox’s Bazar late in 2010.

    But the plans for the illegal shipment was cancelled after Naga rebel leader Anthony Shimray, who had set up the deal through Willy, was arrested in mid-2010 in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, and taken to India for questioning.

    Chittagong arms case

    Shimray's name first surfaced in the 2004 Chittagong arms cases, when prosecutors there found some evidence of his involvement, but the trail on him went cold and was not pursued by the Bangladesh prosecutors.

    We have a pretty strong case and a solid body of evidence to seek his extradition to stand trial in India

    Sharad Kumar, NIA chief

    Following his interrogation, Willy’s involvement in the deal with the Norinco subsidiary surfaced.

    Willy was arrested in September last year from his home in Bangkok after India got a red corner notice issued against the Thai trader through Interpol following an extradition treaty signed between the two countries.

    Officials of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) then moved the Thai court for Willy’s extradition.

    If he is finally extradited, this would be the first case of a foreign national brought to India to stand trial for arms smuggling.

    Willy is believed to be the key link in the chain of illegal weapons procured from China by rebels in India's troubled northeast through south-east Asia and Bangladesh.

    He is one of the three mentioned as prime accused in a chargesheet filed by the NIA in an Indian court in a gunrunning case dating back to 2007-2008.

    Initially there were four accused but one of them has turned approver for the NIA and spilled the beans on the deal.

    "We have a pretty strong case and a solid body of evidence to seek his extradition to stand trial in India," NIA chief Sharad Kumar had told Indian media after the case for Willy’s extradition was filed in Bangkok last year.

    Six-decade old insurgency

    Shimray, a senior leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), has been in Indian jails since 2010.

    The NSCN-IM has been negotiating with the Indian federal government since July 1997 for a solution to the six-decade old insurgency in the country’s northeast. But the talks have not produced a breakthrough or any tangible result in the last nearly 17 years.

    Indian military officials say though the NSCN-IM has been engaged in the peace parleys, it has continued to recruit young Nagas and trained them in guerrilla warfare.

    "They now have twice the number of fighters than they had in 1997 when the peace talks started. Maybe more than that," says Major-General Gaganjit Singh, a former deputy chief of India's Defence Intelligence Agency.

    Though the NSCN-IM has not fought against Indian forces since 1997, its fighters have been involved in factional feuds and turf battles with other breakaway factions representing other communities who oppose the NSCN-IM’s plans for a "greater Naga state".

    The "Greater Nagaland" plan of NSCN-IM wants merger of Naga-dominated territories of three northeast Indian states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh with the state of Nagaland.

    Shimray, who has lived in Thailand for most of the last twenty years, was said to be the NSCN-IM's chief of procurement.

    Rocket launchers

    The approver has confessed to the NIA that Shimray paid an advance of $800,000 in April 2010 to a Bangkok-based company run by Willy to source rocket launchers, grenades, assault rifles and ammunition for the NSCN-IM and its allies from a weapons supplier in China.

    The NIA has electronic receipt of the payment. Shimray also received $800,000 in Bangkok from NSCN-IM, out of which $700,000 was paid to TCL via Willy.

    Rest of the sum was paid to Thai shipping agent Kittichai of Intermarine Shipping Company of Bangkok for transporting the weapons to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

    He revealed that Shimray had been frequently travelling to Beijing to seal the arms deal.

    The approver says that the huge arms consignment was to be supplied to rebels in northeast India via Bangladesh, but the present government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unlike her predecessor, Begum Khaleda Zia, has acted against northeast rebels.

    Since Hasina assumed office as prime minister in January 2009, dozens of Indian separatists, including some top leaders have been arrested and quietly handed over to India.

    Two former ministers in the Zia government and two former Bangladesh intelligence chiefs were among the 14 sentenced to death by a Chittagong court earlier this year for their involvement in the April 2004 arms smuggling.

    A senior NIA official said that the agency has got hold of emails exchanged between NSCN-IM leaders and Willy about the proposed deal to bring in the huge consignment in 2010 that included more than 1,000 AL series rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers.

    But he was not willing to be named on grounds he did not have permission to speak to the media.

    NIA officials say that a definite money trail exists as payment to Chinese firm was made through normal banking channels via a leading private bank's branch in an African country.

    NSCN-IM has parked its funds in bank accounts especially in South Africa, but also in some other African countries, the NIA told Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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