Russia's Viktor Bout 'never sold weapons': lawyer
Viktor Bout, a former Soviet air force officer accused in the United States of trafficking arms worldwide, never sold or had anything to do with the sale of weapons, his lawyer said Wednesday.
"Selling? Never. He never sold, he never brokered," attorney Albert Dayan said in New York federal court during a pretrial hearing.
The statement appeared to surprise Judge Shira Scheindlin, who will preside over Bout's trial on charges that he tried to sell a huge arsenal, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, to a Colombian guerrilla group called FARC.
"Your position is that he's not an arms dealer," Scheindlin said.
"Absolutely," Dayan replied, describing his client, who sat in court in a dark blue prisoner's smock, as a "transporter."
Bout, who has pleaded not guilty to the trafficking charge, is alleged to have been one of the world's most prolific private arms dealers, operating a fleet of ex-Soviet airplanes that poured weapons into African wars.
He was arrested in Thailand during a US sting operation in March 2008 and extradited last November after a long legal battle. He is being held in the high security wing of a Manhattan detention center.
His reputation earned him the popular nickname "Merchant of Death" and his life inspired a film called "Lord of War," starring Nicholas Cage.
During Wednesday's hearing, Scheindlin began the process of ruling how much detail from Bout's colorful past can be admitted during the upcoming trial on the narrower allegations of attempting to arm the FARC.
She said that certain episodes of alleged arms drops to African countries like Angola may be brought up to demonstrate the suspect's dealings. Prosecution lawyers will also be allowed to mention that the United Nations put him on a list of people banned from international travel.
However certain details that Scheindlin said could unfairly prejudice the jury against Bout will be barred, including that some alleged arms shipments involved Libya and Rwanda.
© 2011 AFP