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New York court continues hearings in Viktor Bout case

October 26, 2011, 11:49 UTC+3
Bout’s lawyer Albert Dayan continued to convince the jury that his client had no intention of selling weapons
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NEW YORK, October 26 (Itar-Tass) — The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Tuesday continued hearings in the case of Russian businessman Viktor Bout, accused by the US authorities of smuggling weapons.

The lawyers and prosecutors completed the questioning of the third witness for the prosecution – informant of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Carlos Sagastume who took part in the DEA operation undertaken in order to expose Bout’s alleged criminal intent.

Bout’s lawyer Albert Dayan continued to convince the jury that his client had no intention of selling weapons, but only engaged in cargo transportation. Dayan said that Bout only intended to sell two of his cargo aircraft to representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group the role of which was played by the DEA informants.

Dayan presented his version of the Bout’s conversation at Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok with DEA agents in March 2008, after which he was arrested. In particular, the lawyer focused the jury’s attention on the fact that Bout “was not the person who initiated the conversation about the sale of weapons.”

In addition, according to Dayan, the handwritten notes Bout made during the meeting contained no significant basic details on the arms, which he allegedly wanted to supply to the “buyers.” In particular, the lawyer said, Bout did not put on the list either specification of the arms or the prices, which invalidates the prosecutor’s statement that the Russian intended to sell weapons. The only sum $5 million, which Bout named himself, was the price of two of his planes, the lawyer said.

According to Dayan, not only Carlos, but Bout himself played a “double game,” as his only real goal was to sell the aircraft. If Bout had not played along with the agents, they would not have bought his planes, the lawyer said.

Prosecutor Brendan McGuire also continued to question Carlos, focusing on the records of the conversation at the Sofitel Hotel, but in his own interpretation. The prosecutor told the jury that the Russian citizen offered DEA agents various types of weapons, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers, mines and other weapons. He also drew attention to the businessman’s statements that he allegedly shared the anti-American feelings of Colombian rebels.

After that, Bout’s former partner British citizen Andrew Smulian, also accused of smuggling weapons, was brought to the courtroom. Immediately after his arrest in Bangkok, Smulian pleaded guilty and made a deal with the investigation in order to get a softer punishment in exchange for providing all the necessary evidence.

Andrew Smulian, a white-haired 70-year-old with British and South African citizenship, was asked by a federal prosecutor who else had been with him when he was caught in a US sting operation in 2008. “Mr Viktor Bout,” Smulian replied in his clipped South African accent, according to an AFP report.

Smulian did not look at Bout as he testified, but before the questioning began, the Russian defendant could be seen staring intently at his former comrade, who, like him, sports a moustache. Smulian and Bout were both arrested in March 2008 in a Bangkok hotel while meeting with US agents pretending to represent leaders from the Colombian Marxist guerrilla group FARC.

In the meeting, which was recorded, Bout offered to sell the fake FARC team a huge arsenal of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles that were supposedly to be used against US helicopters helping the Colombian military, according to AFP.

Smulian pleaded guilty in July 2008 to the same charges of conspiracy to kill Americans and conspiracy to help a US-designated terrorist organisation. He now hopes to be given a light sentence in exchange for his cooperation. A maximum sentence - also faced by Bout - would be life in prison. However, in return for agreeing to testify for the government, a judge could decide to sentence Smulian to “time served,” he said.

At the start of his testimony, Smulian said he had first met Bout in 1997, sparking a close relationship in which they met 75 to 80 times a year and Smulian helped Bout set up a private air base in South Africa. A decade later, Smulian said he had drifted apart from the charismatic Russian and found himself living in Tanzania in “very bad” economic state.

It was then that US Drug Enforcement Administration agents posing as FARC members first suggested that Smulian lead them to Bout to conduct a huge arms deal - a proposal the ageing former gun runner and South African intelligence officer eagerly accepted. “You were playing head games with Smulian,” Bout's defence lawyer Albert Dayan told one of those undercover agents in earlier testimony Tuesday. “He was old, he was broke.”

The court meeting will continue at 10:00, local time (18:00 MSK) on Wednesday. The questioning of witnesses for the prosecution is expected to be completed as early as Friday.

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 has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If convicted, the 44-year-old businessman faces a term from 25 years in prison to life.

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