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NEW YORK, October 17 (Itar-Tass) — The US Federal Court of the Southern District of New York on Monday will continue the trial of Russian businessman Viktor Bout who is accused by US authorities of smuggling weapons. The court in Manhattan is expected to continue to hear the testimony of witnesses at a meeting which is scheduled to begin at 10:00, local time (18:00 MSK).
Last week, the first witness for the prosecution spoke before the jury panel comprising 15 members. The witness was William Brown - one of three leaders of a sting operation conducted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to expose Bout’s alleged criminal intent.
The reason for which the Russian citizen, arrested in Thailand in March 2008 and extradited to the United States in November 2010 stands trial in New York is that he is charged, among other things with “a criminal conspiracy to kill US nationals.” The US Attorney Office claims that Bout allegedly agreed to supply weapons to “an international terrorist organisation, knowing that its purpose was to kill US citizens and officials in Colombia.”
Last week, Assistant US Attorney Brandan McGuire tried to persuade the jurors that Bout intended to sell to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who, in fact, were paid DEA agents who worked for a bounty of several hundred thousand US dollars. According to the attorney, Bout promised to sell his “counterparts” “staggering quantities” of weapons and explosives - 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 fragmentary grenades, 740 mortars, 350 sniper rifles, 5 tonnes of C-4 explosives and 10 million rounds of ammunition in a shipment of weapons destined for Colombia in 2008.
“This man, Viktor Bout, agreed to provide all of it to a foreign terrorist organisation he believes was going to kill Americans,” McGuire said in his opening statements. McGuire promised that the prosecution will present to the court “irrefutable evidence” of the Russian citizen’s guilt, including records of his conversations with the DEA agents posing as buyers of weapons.
Bout’s lawyer Albert Dayan said his client had no intention of selling weapons, but only engaged in cargo transportation. He said Bout lost his transport business and had turned to real estate after the UN blocked his travels. “Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just to sell his planes,” he said. Dayan said the government’s anti-American depiction of Bout might leave jurors with a sense of anger and rage. “But anger and rage should not be a substitute for proof,” he said. “You will see he is wrongfully accused in our country, thousands of miles away from his home.” He said he would prove during a trial expected to last several weeks that Bout “never wanted, never intended and was never going to sell arms to anyone in this case.”
Dayan said Bout, born in the Soviet Union in 1967, was drafted into the military at age 18. He said his client opened an air freight business in 1991 and owned more than 30 cargo planes by age 30. The lawyer said Bout “never himself negotiated terms to any arms contracts.” He said the UN made him into a scapegoat and he “couldn’t shake off a reputation as an arms transporter, which had grown to a legend that was way beyond what was the case.”
When the US set up its sting operation, Bout found himself in a “two-way, real-life con game” in which the US was trying to charge him with arms deal crimes and he was trying to sell cargo planes without ever following through on a weapons delivery, Dayan said. “Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just to sell his planes,” Dayan noted. “They played a perfect sucker to catch a sucker.”
According to the Russian’s lawyer, DEA in 2007 launched a very aggressive hunting for Bout. The lawyer said it is his privilege to show that all in the United States, including Russian citizen Viktor Bout, who is thousands of miles from home, can expect a fair trial.
After that the jury heard the testimony of the first witness for the prosecution - William Brown. He gave details of the operation, including meetings of the agents who introduced themselves a “Carlos” and “Ricardo” with Bout’s former partner British citizen Andrew Smulian who is also charged with smuggling weapons on the Caribbean island of Curacao, Copenhagen, Bucharest and Bangkok.
Immediately after his arrest in Bangkok Smulian fully admitted his guilt and concluded a deal with the investigation that means mitigation of punishment for him in exchange for providing all the necessary evidence, including against his former partner. It is also planned to hear Smulian’s testimony at the court meeting.
Attorney McGuire asked Brown about the operation and authenticity of the evidence attached to the case: discs with recordings of telephone conversations and e-mails of Bout, including with Smulian, as well as records of Bout’s negotiations with his “counterparts” before his detention in Bangkok.
According to McGuire, Bout knew the nature of FARC activities that was designated by the US a terrorist group when he was arrested at a hotel in Bangkok in March 2008 and printouts containing information about the organisation in English and Spanish were found on him. In addition, the attorney said that Bout brought to the meeting with the “buyers” the booklets “Il-76 serving in the Air Force” and “Il-18 special mission planes.”
Bout is charged with four counts: a criminal conspiracy to kill US nationals, conspiracy to kill public servants, criminal conspiracy to purchase and sell anti-aircraft missiles, conspiracy to supply weapons to terrorist groups. The Russian citizens has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If convicted, the 44-year-old businessman faces from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment.