March 11, 23:25
NEW YORK, October 25 (Itar-Tass) — The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan on Monday resumed the trial of Russian citizen Viktor Bout who is charged by the US authorities with smuggling weapons. At the meeting the jury continued to hear testimony from the third witness for the prosecution - Carlos Sagastume. He was directly involved in the sting operation of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok that was conducted with a view to exposing Bout’s alleged criminal intent.
Assistant US Attorney Brandan McGuire questioned Carlos, focusing on the records of a conversation in the Sofitel Hotel made in Thailand on the day the Russian businessman’s arrest. The prosecutor was trying to convince the jury that the Russian offered various kinds of weapons, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers, mines and other weapons to DEA agents who posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group. N his speech the assistant US attorney demonstrated handwritings with figures and abbreviations of arms belonging to the businessman and made during that meeting. McGuire also drew attention to the businessman’s words to FARC members - Bout noted that he shared the feelings of Colombian rebels.
After McGuire’s speech, the Russian businessman’s lawyer Albert Dayan tokk the floor. The defence lawyer drew attention of the jury to the fact that Bout’s ultimate goal at the negotiations with the agents was to sell two cargo planes, but not weapons. At the same time, Dayan continued, the talks about arms deliveries were held in order to “stir up the customers’ interest and had no base under them.” At the same time the lawyer did not go into details and analyse the businessman’s conversation transcripts, as well as drawings on paper presented by the prosecution side.
Next, Dayan compared Bout’s arrest to other covert operations of agent Carlos who has been working with the DEA for 15 years. In particular, he referred to the case of Syrian arms dealer Monzer Al-Kassar in which Sagastume was involved. The lawyer noted that in the Bout’s case “there are no specifications of weapons, details, specifics and prices,” while in the Al-Kassar case the agents had contracts, details, and money transactions checks. There were no such details in the Bout’s case and therefore there was no deal proper.
Answering questions put by the lawyer who was trying to illustrate that the financial aspect is of major interest for Carlos in this trial, Sagastume confirmed that he was paid 250 thousand US dollars for the “Bout case,” and for the participation in previous covert operations he received 7 million US dollars.
After that Albert Dayan asked Carlos in detail about his meetings on the Caribbean island of Curacao and in Bucharest with Bout’s former partner British citizen Andrew Smulian. The lawyer also noted that Smulian during conversations with the agents incredibly exaggerated Bout’s possibilities.
The highest expectations are linked with the appearance in the courtroom of Viktor Bout’s alleged accomplice - Smulian. He is expected to be questioned at the New York court on Tuesday. Smulian was arrested in Thailand along with Booth, but agreed to cooperate with investigators in exchange for a reduced sentence. His trial will begin immediately after the Russian citizen’s trial is over.
Meanwhile, according to AFP report, the Russian’s defence team got a chance to fire back Tuesday, when attorney Albert Dayan cross-examined Carlos, named in court as Carlos Sagastume. Sagastume is a one-time Guatemalan military member who turned to drug trafficking, then to undercover work for US agencies. He revealed he had taken part in 150 US operations and been paid lavishly, including $7 million for a single previous case. So far, for his work with Bout, he had received $250,000 from the Drug Enforcement Administration, he said. Dayan suggested he was in for much more if Bout was found guilty. “You have a financial stake in the outcome,” Dayan said. “I hope they will pay, but whether they pay, I do not know,” Sagastume said.
The trial began almost two weeks ago and arguments are expected to wrap up at the start of next week.
Bout’s lawyers insist that he simply acted as transporter, not dealer. The sting operation in Thailand infuriated Moscow, but after a bitter diplomatic battle between Washington and Moscow Bout was extradited to New York last year. Prosecutors have sought to underline that Bout not only was ready to sell weapons to FARC, but was keen for them to be used against Americans -- a key element of the charges against him, according to AFP.
Dayan said at an earlier court meeting that Bout, born in the Soviet Union in 1967, was drafted into the military at age 18. He said his client opened an air freight business in 1991 and owned more than 30 cargo planes by age 30. The lawyer said Bout “never himself negotiated terms to any arms contracts.” He said the UN made him into a scapegoat and he “couldn’t shake off a reputation as an arms transporter, which had grown to a legend that was way beyond what was the case.”
When the US set up its sting operation, Bout found himself in a “two-way, real-life con game” in which the US was trying to charge him with arms deal crimes and he was trying to sell cargo planes without ever following through on a weapons delivery, Dayan said. “Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just to sell his planes,” Dayan noted. “They played a perfect sucker to catch a sucker.”
According to the Russian’s lawyer, DEA in 2007 launched a very aggressive hunting for Bout. The lawyer said it is his privilege to show that all in the United States, including Russian citizen Viktor Bout, who is thousands of miles from home, can expect a fair trial.
Viktor Bout is charged with four counts, including a criminal conspiracy to supply weapons to terrorist groups and criminal conspiracy to kill US nationals. Bout has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The trial is expected to last for about a month. If convicted, the 44-year-old businessman faces a sentence from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment.