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NEW YORK, October 11 (Itar-Tass) —— The trial of Russian businessman Viktor Bout accused of arms contraband has stated in New York.
Twelve jurors and from two to six backups will be selected from 80 candidates to make a decision.
The defense and the prosecution in the case exchanged appeals to secure the best possible legal positions for themselves ahead of the trial.
The defense appealed to the federal judge for not adducing evidence that may create a wrong impression of Bout.
The prosecution wanted to adduce evidence of Bout’s alleged involvement in illegal arms trade, such as testimonies of witnesses and fragments of e-mails concerning the Bout delivery of arms to conflict zones in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo that presumably took place in 1997-1998. The prosecution also asked for summoning experts who would tell the jury about the UN authority to introduce economic sanctions and the UN actions taken as regards Bout. In 2004 the businessman was put on the sanctions list of the UN Security Council resolution 1532, which counteracted arms deliveries that escalated conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan. After that Bout was put on the U.S. blacklist.
The defense strongly opposed the appeal. The lawyers said it was an attempt of the U.S. government “to portray Bout as a notorious arms dealer operating in violation of sanctions of the UN and the United States.”
The lawyers stressed the prosecutors had admitted that the evidence did not prove Bout’s crime. They think that the evidence aims to present Bout to the jury as “a cold-blooded and amoral dealer who disregarded the United States and the United Nations in his dealings.”
“Such evidence and testimony will make the jury think about terrible crimes Bout might have committed for being subject to the radical measures,” the lawyers said.
They also noted that the evidence was unrelated to the case. Bout was extradited to the United States from Thailand on November 16, 2010. The United States brought four charges, including a conspiracy aimed at killings of U.S. citizens, a conspiracy aimed at killing civil servants, a conspiracy aimed to trade anti-aircraft missiles, and a conspiracy aimed to supply arms to terrorist groups. He pleaded not guilty on all the charges.
“There is nothing in common between the Bout intention to make legal arms deals and the criminal intention to kill Americans, to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Colombian insurgents for being used against helicopters in the United States and Colombia and to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization that is being ascribed to him,” the lawyers said. “Attempts to present Bout as a violator of UN sanctions have no other goal but to blacken his reputation. So they cannot be accepted by the court as a proof of his culpability.”
Bout was apprehended in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 6, 2008, by the U.S. request. The United States was unable to present evidence for a whole year but kept referring to newspaper articles and conclusions of certain experts. The Thai court acquitted the businessman and denied his transfer to the United States in August 2009. The United States demanded to review the case.
The Thai Court of Appeal said on August 20, 2010, that Bout would be transferred to the United States where he could be sentenced to life in jail.
Bout accused U.S. security services of fabricating his case and falsely alleging his plans to sell mobile anti-aircraft missile systems to Colombian insurgents.
“I have never had this intention. I have never been to the United States or Colombia. U.S. security services fabricated the accusations of an alleged conspiracy to kill American citizens and support to terrorism on the basis of a provocative act they organized against me in Bangkok,” he said.
Bout bluntly denied alleged arms trade and said that he had a legal international transportation business in 1993-2001. “Many media outlets present me as the largest illegal arms trader in the world but never give a thought to the absence of any evidence,” he said.
The extradition followed a decision of the Thai government, which approved the transfer of the 43-year-old businessman to the United States.
This extradition is non-legal, the businessman’s lawyer told Itar-Tass. “That was done secretly and totally illegally, which was confirmed by a number of documents possessed by the court. Legal procedures were not complete, so my client was not supposed to be extradited to the United States. I intend to investigate this situation, and I will ask the prime minister for information. This situation is harmful for the image of Thailand,” he said.
“The United States understood perfectly well that Viktor Bout would be released on November 19, so they actually scratched him out. The decision was made under the U.S. pressure,” the lawyer said.
“Viktor was taken away without documentation or notification, as if he were a citizen of the United States rather than a citizen of Russia, as if he were a thing rather than a human being,” businessman’s wife Alla Bout told Itar-Tass. “The entire situation is not legal, despite the assurances and promises of Thailand not to bring politics to this trial,” she said.
”Hopefully, the case will not be disregarded, and Russia will demand explanations from the governments of Thailand and the United States,” she said.
Moscow’s official reaction to the event in Bangkok was practically immediate. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted an official statement at noon of November 16 to describe the extradition as an illegal act and a result of pressure on Bangkok. Russia will do its best to protect lawful rights of Viktor Bout in accordance with the Russian constitution and international humanitarian norms, the ministry said.
“There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout is a result of unprecedented political pressure put by the United States on the Thai government and courts,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “The situation cannot be described other than interference in justice. It calls into question independence of Thai courts and decisions made by Thai authorities. We very much regret that Thai authorities succumbed to the external political pressure and agreed to the illegal extradition of Bout,” the ministry said.
“Despite two judgments of the Thai court, which said that Bout’s culpability was not proven, the citizen of Russia spent over two years in a Thai prison and was eventually transferred to the U.S. police,” the ministry said. “According to the Thai media, that was done with the approval of the Thai government. From the point of view of the law, the action has no rational reason or excuse.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a harsh comment on the Bout situation. He described the extradition as ‘an example of flagrant injustice’ and stressed that he viewed the situation as a result of ‘unprecedented political pressure on Thai courts and government.’
The trial is supposed to last for about a month. If found guilty, the 44-year-old businessman may be sentenced from 25 years to life in prison. His wife Alla and daughter Yelizaveta will attend the trial.