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New York court continues hearings in Viktor Bout case

October 27, 2011, 5:35 UTC+3

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday continued hearings in the case of Russian businessman Viktor Bout

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NEW YORK, October 27 (Itar-Tass) —— The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday continued hearings in the case of Russian businessman Viktor Bout, accused by the United States authorities of smuggling weapons.

The lawyers and prosecutors continued interrogation of the chief witness, Bout’s former partner British citizen Andrew Smulian, who is also accused of smuggling weapons. 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.

Smulian, 70, said he had known Bout since 1997, when they met in South Africa while they were in the air cargo business. In his words, after Bout moved from South Africa to the United Arab Emirates in 1998 they exchanged a couple of e-mails until they met again in Moscow ten years later. Then, in late 2007, Smulian offered Bout to join that plans to arrange the delivery of anti-aircraft missile systems and other weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a terrorist group known for using cocaine deals to support terrorist operations.

Neither man knew at the time that the two FARC officials they were dealing with were undercover informants working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Prosecutors produced tapes with telephone conversations between the two men and their e-mails, as well as conversations with DEA agents as a prove of their conspiracy.

Smulian also testified that during their Moscow meeting, Bout spoke over the phone in Russian. Hanging up, Bout told him "100 pieces were available," Smulian, who does not speak Russian, testified. He said that Bout was referring to 100 Igla anti-missile launchers capable of destroying combat helicopters in midair. He also said Bout was talking to Petr Mirchev from Bulgaria-based KAS Engineering.

In the mean time, Bout’s lawyer Albert Dayan said he had doubts that Smulian was telling truth. In his words, the man had worked for South African military intelligence since 1966 and telling lies was a customary practice with him. Smulian admitted his engagement with the South African government but said he only did air surveys of classified facilities. Although he admitted that he could tell lies, since it was part of his job. Bout’s lawyer tried to persuade the jury that Smulian could be telling lies in court as well.

Dayan also drew attention of the jury that Bout’s e-mails contained no details of weapons, prices or any mention of his intention to sell arms. The messages mentioned only An-12 planes. The defence thus is trying to persuade the jury that Bout was not going to sell any weapons but rather two freight aircraft.

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

Bout, 44, 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 businessman faces a term from 25 years in prison to life.

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