WikiLeaks cables that allegedly show U.S. diplomats pressured Thailand to extradite suspected international arms smuggler Viktor Bout are not likely to influence his trial for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens, a federal judge said at a hearing.
Bout’s exploits loosely formed the basis for Nicholas Cage’s character in the film “Lord of War,” and were the subject of investigative journalist Douglas Farah’s book, “The Merchant of Death.”
Speaking of Farrah’s work, Bout allegedly told a Drug Enforcement Administration agent: “The book is bullshit.”
Thai authorities arrested Bout in Bangkok in an international sting operation on March 6, 2008. Bout was suspected of conspiring with Andrew Smulian to sell millions of dollars of weapons to DEA agents posing as members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), a designated terrorist organization.
A grand jury indicted Bout a month later on charges of conspiring to kill United States nationals; to kill officers and employees of the United States; to acquire, transfer, and use antiaircraft missiles; and to provide material support to terrorism.
Smulian pleaded guilty to identical charges in a cooperation agreement with the government.
Bout was extradited to the United States on Nov. 16, 2010 and arraigned in New York’s Southern District the next day. He sought dismissal of the charges in two motions, most recently in May.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin denied his first request on July 12.
On Thursday, the parties met to discuss Bout’s challenges to his indictment, including claims of vindictive prosecution and unlawful extradition.
Although she reserved judgment on the motion, Judge Scheindlin did not appear persuaded by Bout’s lawyers, who claimed his arrest was politically motivated.
Two WikiLeaks cables submitted as evidence purportedly show that U.S. diplomats pressured the Thai judiciary into granting Bout’s extradition.
One cable indicates that diplomats argued that denying extradition might compromise Thailand’s efforts to get fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra back in their custody, a defense motion states.
Ousted in 2006, Shinawatra was convicted of graft.
A Thai court declined to extradite Bout, but an appellate court overturned that, in a move that Bout alleges was tainted by diplomatic pressure.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire blasted Bout’s lawyers’ “sensational claims,” adding that Shinawatra is not in U.S. custody.
The British newspaper The Independent recently interviewed Shinawatra at his luxury villa in Dubai.
Scheindlin said that “even if the WikiLeak documents were authentic,” there is nothing unusual about diplomatic pressure in extradition, and treaties show that U.S. courts cannot investigate the decisions of another country’s judicial system.
Bout’s attorney Albert Dayan said the arms dealer acted as a businessman rather than a terror-enabler when he allegedly tried to sell weapons to the FARC. Dayan says the government must prove Bout acted with “malice aforethought” for two of its counts.
Prosecutors say they can prove his FARC sympathies and willingness to kill Americans with forensic evidence from Bout’s computer and his own statements during the sting operation. Bout allegedly told the undercover agents: “Your fight is my fight.”
Dayan countered: “That could be a salesman pitch.”
The controversy will be decided by a jury, at a trial set for Oct. 11.
This article was written by Adam Klasfield and published by Courthouse News Service on July 22, 2011.
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