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New York court to continue trial of Viktor Bout

October 24, 2011, 18:16 UTC+3
The prosecution side alleges that the Russian also discussed the possibility of buying a bank through which the FARC could launder money
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NEW YORK, October 24 (Itar-Tass) — The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan on Monday is resume the trial of Russian citizen Viktor Bout who is charges by the US authorities with smuggling weapons. At the court meeting that is scheduled to begin at 10:00, local time (18:00 MSK), the jury is expected to continue to hear testimony of the third witness for the prosecution - Carlos Sagastume. He was directly involved in the sting operation of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) undertaken in order to expose Bout’s alleged criminal intent.

During the most recent court hearings in Bout’s case on Wednesday, Carlos answered questions put by Assistant US Attorney Brandan McGuire who tried to convince the jury that the Russian at the last meeting with DEA agents posing as members of the group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) offered them various kinds of weapons.

The prosecution side alleges that the Russian also discussed the possibility of buying a bank through which the FARC could launder money.

During the meeting, the prosecution continued to convince the jury that Bout fully shared the FARC hostile feelings towards the Americans.

During Monday’s hearing, McGuire will continue to question Carlos, after which the Russian citizen’s lawyer Albert Dayan will take the floor.

Observers say that despite the importance of this witness, the greatest expectations are associated with the appearance in the courtroom of the alleged accomplice of Victor Bout - British citizen Andrew Smulian. If Dayan has the time to complete questioning of the DEA informer on Monday, Smulian will give testimony the next day.

Smulian was arrested in Thailand together with Bout, however, he agreed to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for a reduced sentence. His trial will begin immediately after the Russian’s trial is completed.

At the court hearing on October 13, 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. Bout has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The trial is expected to last for about a month. If convicted, the 44-year-old businessman faces a sentence from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment.

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