MOSCOW Russia is planning to ask the United States to hand over jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout so that he can serve out the remainder of his 25-year prison term on home soil, the Russian Justice Ministry said on Thursday.
Bout, subject of a book called "Merchant of Death" and inspiration for a film "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage, was sentenced earlier this year after agreeing to sell arms to U.S. undercover agents posing as Colombian guerrillas planning to attack American soldiers.
His case has strained ties between Moscow and Washington - he said he was a legitimate businessman and the Russian Foreign Ministry argued he was convicted on unreliable evidence on the basis of "a political order".
On Thursday, the Justice Ministry said it had filed a formal request to the United States asking its counterpart to provide it with a copy of Bout's verdict, which would allow it to start the transfer process if the American side agreed.
"If the American side presents the requested material, it will be sent to a competent Russian court for a decision on the recognition and execution of the U.S. court verdict in regard to Bout on the territory of the Russian Federation," the ministry said in a statement.
The United States has not responded to the request so far, it said.
"If the U.S. give their final consent to hand Bout over to Russia, the Federal Penitentiary service will be ordered to arrange the place, time and process of the factual transfer of the convict with the competent U.S. authority," it added.
Although Bout has already agreed to filing the request, according to the Itar-Tass news agency, the United States may refuse it since the 1983 European Convention on extradition stipulates that an individual can only be handed over after the end of their trial.
In the case of Bout, who has protested his innocence and is preparing an appeal, the judicial process is not over. If the United States refuses to provide the necessary documents, Russia will have to wait for two years before it can file another request.
Bout's wife Alla, who said in June she did not hold out much hope for her husband's appeal, petitioned the Justice Ministry last month to transfer her husband - currently held in Illinois' Marion prison - to a Russian jail.
(Reporting By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn)