Russia decries Bout sentence


RUSSIA HAS lashed out at a US court decision to sentence arms dealer Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison, calling the move groundless and politically motivated.

Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”, was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison on Thursday after his conviction on conspiracy and terrorism charges. Prosecutors had asked for life in prison, arguing that his weapons trafficking had fuelled conflicts around the world.

The Russian foreign ministry said that it considered the sentencing “baseless and biased”.

“Despite the shakiness of the evidence, the illegal nature of his arrest by US special forces in Thailand and his . . . extradition, the US justice system, carrying out a clear political order, has ignored lawyers’ arguments and numerous appeals in the defence of a Russian citizen,” it said.

It accused US media of being complicit in the campaign against Bout and pledged to do everything to return him “to the motherland”.

Russia has stood up for Bout since his arrest in a US sting operation in Thailand in 2008, trying but failing to prevent his extradition to the US. Bout was convicted by a federal court in Manhattan in November, 2011, on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and provide material support to a terrorist organisation.

He maintains his innocence, telling the court he “never intended to kill anyone”.

“God knows the truth”, he said.

Prosecutors argued that Bout’s weapons fuelled some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, including Rwanda, Angola and Congo. They said he was looking for new arms deals in places like Libya and Tanzania when he was arrested by US agents posing as Colombian Farc rebels.

The trial and sentencing came as US-Russia relations continued to deteriorate in advance of Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency next month. The foreign ministry said Bout’s conviction and sentencing “would, without doubt, remain among our priorities on the Russian-American agenda”. – (Guardian service)