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NEW YORK, October 18 (Itar-Tass) — Agents of American secret services sought to seize Russian citizen Viktor Bout at all costs, permanently stirring up his business interests and provoking the deal. Such a conclusion can be drawn from the arguments his lawyer Albert Dayan presented at the court hearing into the case of the Russian businessman who is charged by the US authorities with smuggling weapons.
On Monday, the jury continued to hear testimony from the witness for the prosecution - William Brown - one of the coordinators of the sting operation the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted in order to expose Bout’s alleged criminal intent.
Asking Brown questions, Dayan tried to convince the jury that the Russian did not intend to sell arms to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group. He built his arguments on electronic correspondence of Bout’s former partner British citizen Andrew Smulian with the intermediary DEA agent posing as FARC member - a native of South Africa Mike Snow. According to Dayan, Smulian warned that Bout was not engaged in “grey business.” One of the e-mails indicates that the businessman “was ordered to cease all operations outside his country.”
Assistant US Attorney Brandan McGuire tried to destroy the defence arguments by showing the text of Bout’s e-mail of January 18, 2008 in which the Russian writes to one of his prospective partners - Icelander Jon Gylfason – about imminent completion of the transaction for the supply of certain “good” to Tanzania. It does not look like a person who is ordered to cease all operations, the prosecution attorney said.
Albert Dayan continued to insist that the DEA agents, having seen that Bout is reluctant to make the weapons deal, attempted to “bait” him by showing an interest in planes. Mike Snow was the first to speak about it, he claimed that before contacting Smulian and Bout he sold a transport plane to the FARC. However, the prosecution side categorically rejects such an interpretation of the events. According to Brown’s testimony, the conversation about the planes was included in the “scenario” of the operation “for greater credibility.” The thing is that both Snow and Smulian were specialising in the field of air transportation.
After Brown’s cross-examination, another witness - computer expert Stephen Marx who worked for the DEA, was invited to the courtroom. Marx’ task was to retrieve information from Bout’s laptop confiscated in Thailand. He demonstrated some files detected on the computer - in particular, a map of Colombia and the FARC manifesto.
On Tuesday, the court will continue to hear the testimony of Marx and, if the time allows, the defence and the prosecution will question a third witness.
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, Brandan McGuire tried to persuade the jurors that Bout intended to sell arms to members of the 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.
Viktor Bout is charged with four counts, including a criminal conspiracy to supply weapons to terrorist groups and criminal conspiracy to kill US nationals. If convicted, the 44-year-old businessman faces a sentence from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment.