The trial of Russian businessmen Viktor Bout, an alleged international arms dealer who stands accused of trafficking weapons to terrorists, has started in New York. But Bout’s family as well as experts doubt the trial will be fair.
The trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York has begun with the selection of a jury of 12. They had to sign a pledge that they would not, in order to avoid bias, research the case online or in the media.
The US government has charged Bout with four charges. Conspiring to kill American nationals, conspiring to kill American officers and employees, conspiring to use and acquire anti-aircraft missiles, and conspiring to provide material support to the FARC rebels in Colombia.
He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 on similar charges at the request of American officials, and was then extradited to the US in November 2010.
According to the US, he was one of the world’s most active black-market arms traders.
Bout has pleaded not guilty. He says he was engaged only in legal sales in the aircraft and shipping industries. The US allegations that Bout conspired to kill American citizens are based on statements Bout allegedly made to undercover operatives during the Bangkok meeting. The operatives posed as members of a rebel group from Colombia that was considered by the US to be a terrorist organization. The conversation between them was recorded.
If he is found guilty, Bout could face life in prison.
In August the case has sustained a serious blow when Shira Scheindlin, a judge for the Southern District of New York, ruled that statements Bout made before his arrival in the US be suppressed.
She said the testimony from the first interrogation cannot be taken into account by the court because Thai police allowed serious procedural violations when they did not allow Bout to meet his defense lawyer.
This case has also caused a political row between Russia and the US.
Russia believes the US managed to extradite Bout from Thailand by putting unprecedented political pressured on the Thai judicial authorities.
Bout will not get a fair trial, warned investigative journalist Daniel Estulin.
“How can Bout get a fair trial when the United States has done everything in its power to bring him to the United States after two years in Thailand – and then they put him on trial in the United States only to have Bout win and embarrass the United States?”, Estulin told RT. “Obviously he is not going to get a fair trial.”
But if he does lose the case, Estulin added, Bout will certainly appeal.
“There is a tremendous amount of evidence, especially in Thailand,which basically shows Viktor Bout is not a 'Merchant of Death' and actually has nothing to do with the arms trade,” Estulin claimed.
The trial is expected to last for about one month. Bout’s wife Alla and his daughter will attend the trial.