The last pre-trial hearings in the case of Russian businessman Viktor Bout, accused by the US authorities of smuggling weapons, were held at a federal court in Manhattan on Thursday.
Bout is charged with conspiring to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARS), blacklisted as a terrorist group. In motions to dismiss the case, Bout’s lawyers claimed on Thursday that American officials vindictively launched a 2008 sting operation against him in Thailand and that he is the victim of the US malicious prosecution. The lawyers insist that Bout was in talks with Briton Andrew Smulian and US agents posing as FARC rebels, not with FARC rebels themselves. This, the lawyers argue, can be confirmed by a Moscow-based witness who has already signaled his readiness to come to the US embassy in Moscow to give evidence.
Prosecutors, for their part, allege that Bout agreed to supply weapons to FARC, knowing that his actions could harm the United States’ national interests. They mention Bout’s computer with relevant software, confiscated right after his arrest in Thailand in March 2008.
Bout’s lead attorney Albert Dayan, for his part, said that the US authorities fabricated the charges against Bout “for purely political reasons.” He added that he wants explanations from former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate on Washington’s foot-dragging as far as Bout’s arrest is concerned. “It seems that some top US officials just decided that Bout is a very bad guy who deserves punishment”, Dayan said.
Earlier, Bout’s lawyers filed an appeal to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Thai authorities unlawfully extradited him to the United States in November 2010. In an interview with the Voice of Russia aired on Friday, Bout’s wife Alla recalled that her husband pleaded not guilty on all the charges against him.
“Thailand extradited Bout in violation of all the agreements between Washington and Bangkok, Alla says, adding that the new Thai government still keeps mum on the matter. In a statement on February, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it wants Bangkok to elaborate on Bout’s extradition, Alla says, expressing hope that the new Thai Cabinet will finally react.”
She specifically pointed to the Thai authorities’ political motivation when it comes to the Bout case. Under pressure from Washington, Bangkok breached a raft of relevant bilateral agreements, Alla said, lamenting Thailand’s unwillingness to use “judicial mechanisms.”
“During parliamentary hearings earlier this year, Alla recalls, the Thai Foreign Minister said that Viktor Bout must be extradited to the US, not Russia, whose political clout in Asia continues to fade. I’m not going to comment on this statement, which reflects Thailand backsliding on human rights,” she complains.
The ongoing hearings in the Bout case are also riding roughshod over my husband’s rights, Alla said, citing a judge’s reluctance to heed the fact that a Russian citizen can not be brought to court on US territory.