Original link: Viktor Bout convicted over terrorism charges
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was convicted Wednesday in criminal court for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against the US. George Mapp, an investigative journalist who writes the blog at SkyPotrol.net has been following the Viktor Bout story since 2008. He was in Thailand when Viktor Bout was arrested and attended court proceedings there. He’s talked to Viktor Bout. He’s been following the story in New York since. George, let’s go ahead and look at the results . He is guilty. But what exactly has he been found guilty of?
He’s been found guilty of some extremely serious charges. I don’t believe he is guilty of the crimes he’s been convicted of. They are in fact basically crimes to conspire to kill US nationals, crimes to sell arms to FARC, which is deemed a terrorist organization by the US. So, it’s a very significant verdict. I think Viktor Bout will spend the rest of his life in the US.
And, of course, they are appealing, right?
Yes. Actually, I believe after the jury was dismissed by Judge Scheindlin, defense attorney Albert Dayan then made a motion for a new trial in 30 days, which will be December 2. However, from my legal experience, that’s sort of a tactic to find out where you stand, and then, at that point, if that’s not successful, you have another chance if that’s not successful, you have another chance, as a defense attorney or as a defendant, to file a new appeal, or a motion for new trial. The sentencing will be done on February 8, 2012. But something very significant, which very few people realize, is that Douglas McNabb, the extradition attorney, was spoken to over the weekend and there is actually a second separate indictment pending against Viktor Bout, and I think this was an insurance policy, if you will, by the US authorities in case the verdict wouldn’t be passed or in case they can still use this indictment to bring him into another court case – this is for money laundering – and also if the sentence on February 8 is, in their opinion, not harsh enough for Viktor Bout, then they can being him up on other indictment.
So your concession is that they had another indictment ready to go in case they didn’t like the results here?
Yes. What was very unusual about it is the actual indictment that was filed against Viktor Bout by the US government in Thailand, which was withdrawn by the US. It seems to be almost exactly the same indictment, except they added Richard Chichakli as well to the list of defendants on his indictment. But a very unusual thing was that Viktor Bout was extradited from Thailand to the US on November 16, 2010. And this indictment, according to the DEA website, is November 17. It’s extremely significant. Many people don’t realize this indictment is still alive, is still pending, because they had a similar one in Thailand that was removed. And it seems as though in all the confusion and media hype about his actual physical extradition, the DEA wanted to file it to the court when no one was listening or watching.
I see. In this particular trial, was he convicted on all charges or did he get off on any?
Yes, all four. So it’s unlikely that the sentence will be light. I expect a very stiff sentence. Unfortunately, there is a lot of people who chant against Viktor Bout in terms of Oxfam and the UN. They are trying to set the example of Mr. Bout – to stamp the ban on everybody who ever sold arms or transported arms, like trying to put Viktor Bout away for life.
What kind of sentencing is it? What’s the minimum? What’s the maximum?
I believe – I’m an attorney – I’m not sure that these sentences can run concurrently. For instance, 25 years to life. I don’t know if they can say, ok, you’re guilty on four accounts and you are looking at 100 years. But I do know that, according to extradition attorney Douglas McNabb, this sentencing is less stringent than the actual charges. For example, if something is mentioned in court, then judge can take it into consideration. She can use and talk about the preponderance or the fact that he might have committed the crime, or she can even take in hearsay when she doles after sentencing him – basically, everything that was mentioned in the trial, the judge can consider that for sentencing him, even though it might not have been enough for a specific charge. The sentencing could actually be quite harsh – that’s my understanding.
I hear what you are saying. How long has he actually been in custody since he was arrested in Thailand?
I believe it was March 6, 2008 when he was actually arrested. Now it’s November 2, 2011. It’s been a long time. And he was in Thailand basically hiding for his life, because if he had gotten away in Thailand, he never faced terrorism charges before in his life, he’s never ever – from my understanding, from what I read – transported anything, whether legal arms or anything in South America. The continent he focused primarily on was Africa. He did do some stuff in Europe but primarily Africa. The DEA threw everything they had to capture Viktor Bout. The DEA operation, which was dubbed Operation Relentless, was over several continents – I believe at least three continents. They paid millions of dollars to DEA operatives, DEA agents. They had wiretaps, probably from NSA. They had Google to come up and pull up Viktor Bout’s records. Also, the FBI was involved in forensic analysis. It seems like almost all of the US intelligence agencies were after to get him, in helping the DEA in the Operation Relentless to enter pursuit of Viktor Bout.
All hands on deck. They would make him be like America’s enemy No.1.
Actually, yes. Osama bin Laden is dead and I’d think the No.1 enemy of the US up until today was Viktor Bout.
I wonder who’d be now, because they have him. At least now he is facing sentencing.
Right. They have him and now the goal is to keep him. From my point of view, that’s what it seems they want to do. And like I said, once I found out about this other indictment, which was kept quiet and didn’t come out publicly, I mean it was announced today but it wasn’t widely known until yesterday.
Can you talk about some of the evidence that you saw presented in court?
In Thailand, Viktor Bout was found innocent twice due to lack of evidence. The judge was very direct when she spoke to the jurors about the law and what they can and cannot do and what they have to base their decision on. And the judge made it very clear that, if Viktor Bout conspired to kill US nationals with DEA agents, there is no conspiracy because it is illegal and won’t hold up in a court of law, at least in the US. But the one key witness was Andrew Smulian, and Andrew Smulian had known Viktor Bout. But even if you can see the DEA Operation Relentless and their pursuit of Viktor Bout, the DEA went after Mike Snow – Mike Snow worked for DEA –and Mike Snow went to Andrew Smulian. And Andrew Smulian had known Viktor Bout. I wouldn’t say they were close, but they and a relationship that went on for over ten years, and they had done business together, and they kept in touch over the years. Through Mike Snow and other undercover DEA informants, who were Columbian and I believe ex- Columbian cocaine dealers and who had turned into DEA informants and were highly-paid, they posed as FARC members. In Thailand, you cannot misrepresent yourself and be convicted of a crime – it’s against Thai law. But Viktor Bout had to be found guilty conspiring with Andrew Smulian, who was the only witness in this case who was not a DEA agent or a DEA informant. And most of the testimony of Andrew Smulian happened allegedly, according to what was presented in the court room, as inside the building, in Viktor Bout’s home in Moscow in 2009. And there was no wire attached to that conversation. There were no recordings of any kind. It was just based solely on the word of Andrew Smulian. Andrew Smulian pled guilty and desired to cooperate with DEA. I’m not saying the fact that he had DEA cooperation agreement makes him guilty. But there was a lot of motive for him. In order for that DEA agreement to be enacted, he has to substantially cooperate with DEA. And that “substantial cooperation” is a term by the prosecutor. Andrew Smulian was 67 when he was arrested, didn’t know Viktor Bout very well, the last time they saw each other was 10 years ago and he was broke and poor. And it seems as though he got intoxicated by these DEA undercover agents throwing money at him, taking him to several different countries and promising him big money in different deals. Which deals they were actually talking about? Was it arms, or as Viktor Bout defense claims, he was broke after he was put out of arms business and transportation business, he was basically trying to see a few old airplanes? There was some scribbling on a napkin of some weapons. But there was no exchange of cash between Viktor bout and the DEA agents or even Andrew Smulian. And there was no physical evidence. There were basically just the words of Andrew Smulian to DEA agents and DEA undercover Ops. The actual charges were conspiring. It’s very important to add. All four charges were conspiracy charges. Therefore, the judge directed the jury conspiracy by the US law is just the actual agreement he doesn’t need to sell a weapon and o cash has to change hands. Basically, it’s just the agreement, if you believed that he was going to do that with Andrew Smulian, that he was agreeing to cooperate with Andrew Smulian to sell weapons to FARC.
So, you don’t need to have physical evidence in order to get some conspiracy charges?
No. Mr. Bout has been called many things, and I know are lot of people from Oxfam who are against him. One of my stories is called Imaginary Crime. It is imaginary crimes, manufactured evidence, manufactured jurisdiction as well.
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