US judge delays 'Merchant of Death' trial

3rd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A US judge on Thursday postponed the trial of Russian Viktor Bout, popularly known as the "Merchant of Death" for his alleged career as a massive arms dealer.

Judge Shira Scheindlin granted defense lawyers a one month extension to prepare their case, setting the new date at October 11, instead of the previous start of September 12.

Bout, a Russian citizen extradited from Thailand last November, has new privately retained lawyers replacing his court-appointed team as of this week.

The new head attorney, Albert Dayan, complained that he did not have enough time to go through mountains of evidence and documents before what is expected to be the approximately month-long trial.

Further slowing progress were visiting conditions in the high security detention center where Bout is being held, Dayan said.

Meeting in a locked cubicle, where they are separated by thick glass, and with no table to share, "I literally have to hold each piece of paper against the glass," Dayan said. "I have to shout."

Dayan said he'd been handed eight discs and a hard drive full of case material when he took over the defense, but that he'd not been able even to start reviewing the material.

Scheindlin turned down Dayan's request for a longer delay, but instructed prosecutors to ask the prison service to ease visiting conditions for Bout. If changes are not made, "I'll consider an order" forcing them, she said.

Bout's previous defense team indicated it would challenge the trial on several arguments, including that his extradition from Thailand was illegal. It was not clear whether Dayan would maintain that strategy.

The alleged global arms dealer, wearing a dark blue prison smock, smiled at his wife Alla Bout and looked for almost half a minute across the courtroom through the 15th floor windows out over a brilliantly sunny Manhattan.

Alla Bout said after the hearing that he was suffering from tuberculosis contracted in Thailand and that he was not being fed properly or allowed full access to the prison library.

"Everything is like cooked porridge," she said. "He should at least have vitamins. He's taking antibiotics for tuberculosis. But he should be getting more of a rehabilitation treatment."

Bout -- whose story inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage film "Lord of War" -- has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to kill US nationals, acquire an anti-aircraft missile and support a terrorist group. If convicted, he faces between 25 years and life in prison.

His arrest in Thailand and lengthy extradition battle infuriated Moscow.

© 2011 AFP

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