Russia 'doubts fairness' of Bout trial verdict: ministry

3rd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday said it doubted the fairness of Viktor Bout's conviction in the United States on arms trafficking charges and would work to ensure his return home.

The foreign ministry said alleged pressure from US authorities and poor prison conditions "put in doubt the very basis on which the charge was made and, accordingly, the fairness of the verdict itself."

"Our goal is to ensure his return home," the ministry added in a statement.

Bout -- dubbed the "merchant of death" for his alleged involvement in arms trafficking in some of the world's worst hot spots -- was found guilty on four counts by a New York jury on Wednesday and faces sentencing on February 8.

The 44-year could spend between 25 years and life in prison on charges that include conspiring to kill US service personnel and to sell anti-aircraft weapons.

Bout was arrested in Thailand after being caught in a US sting operation and extradited for trial in 2010. But Russia has refused to accept his arrest as legitimate and he is not targeted by any legal proceedings at home.

The foreign ministry on Thursday reaffirmed its stance that Bout was "illegally extradited from Thailand under unprecedented political pressure from the United States."

It also accused US interrogators of putting "physical and psychological pressure (on Bout to testify) in contravention with international ... law."

The Bout case has been one of several irritants in a relationship that had begun to improve in 2009 with US President Barack Obama's "reset" of relations with its Cold War era foe.

Moscow is also upset with Washington for blacklisting Russian officials with ties to the controversial conviction and subsequent death in jail of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky -- a tragedy that ignited world concern.

Russia has responded to the travel ban by announcing its own secret list of US officials who cannot enter the country because of alleged rights abuses on their part.

Several members of the lower house of parliament's ruling party said Bout's conviction proved that more US officials should be kept out of Russia in the future.

"This is exactly why the State Duma submitted a draft (allowing lawmakers) to ask the Russian government to introduce sanctions against foreign citizens who infringe on Russians' rights," said pro-Kremlin Duma deputy Andrei Klimov.

"The Bout case and the jury's verdict is one big political put-up," Klimov was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.

© 2011 AFP

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