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NEW YORK, September 8 (Itar-Tass) —— The last pre-trial hearings in the case of Russian citizen Viktor Bout being on trial in the United States for alleged arms trafficking were held at a New York federal district court on Wednesday, September 7.
Judge Shira Scheindlin conferred with representatives of the defence and prosecution to discuss the questions to be put to the jury candidates.
Bout’s lawyers Albert Dayan and Kenneth Kaplan insisted on finding out whether the jury candidates are not prejudiced against Russia and its citizens as well as Colombia because a rebel group called Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is involved in the case.
According to the American judicial practice, 12 main members and two to six backups are selected for the jury.
Dayan noted that the jury members would most likely be under the influence of information regarding the case that has drawn so much public attention. Scheindlin said she would make the jury members pledge not to look for information on Bout in mass media, but cannot forbid them to use the Internet completely.
Dayan stressed that his defendant had never been engaged in arms trade but had only provided air transportation services. At the same time, he admitted that some of the cargoes were arms.
The prosecutors proposed to hold the trial within 10 days and two more days will be necessary for selecting the jury.
The trial is scheduled to begin on October 11. But Scheindlin did not rule out that she might hold one more hearing a week before the trial, on October 5, if the sides still have unresolved questions.
On August 2, Scheindlin killed Bout’s last hope for a quick case closure by rejecting his lawyers’ petitions in which they questioned the legality of Bout’s extradition to the U.S. in November 2010.
They also stated that the U.S. authorities had fabricated the charges against Bout for political reasons.
On the first matter, Scheindlin announced in a 20-page ruling that courts in the U.S. were not empowered to revisit decisions on extradition made in other countries.
When rejecting the second petition, she said there was not enough evidence that the charges were politically motivated.
Bout was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 at a U.S. request and extradited to the U.S. in November 2010. He has been charged with masterminding the sale of a large shipment of arms.
Four charges have been brought against him: criminal conspiracy to kill US nationals, conspiracy to kill officials in public service, criminal conspiracy to purchase and sell antiaircraft missiles and criminal conspiracy to supply weapons to terrorist groups. The Russian citizen has pleaded not guilty on all the points. If convicted, 44-year-old Bout will face from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment.
The Russian Foreign Ministry took steps to prevent his extradition to the U.S.; Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that Bout was innocent. On November 18, 2010, shortly after Bout’s extradition to the U.S., Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s aide Sergei Prikhodko claimed that Russia had “nothing to hide” in Bout’s criminal case stating, “It is in our interests that the investigation... be brought to completion, and [Bout] answer all the questions the American justice system has.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier that a situation where Russian citizens fall victim to U.S. justice on the basis of broad interpretation of law is unacceptable.
“We keep on stressing the unacceptability of the situation where a number of Russian citizens fall victim to the application of American legislation and American legislative norms on an exterritorial basis, on the basis of broad interpretation of American laws and the possibility of its extrapolation, including outside the United States,” the diplomat said.