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Accused Russian Arms Dealer Appears in New York Court

  • Larry Freund

Russian arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout, center, in US custody after being flown from Bangkok to New York, November 16, 2010

Russian arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout, center, in US custody after being flown from Bangkok to New York, November 16, 2010

Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military officer accused by the United States of offering to sell weapons to terrorist groups, appeared in federal court in New York on Thursday. Bout's lawyer asked the government to provide his client with better prison conditions.

Bout’s attorney told Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin that the prison room where he and his client meet is unacceptable. A prosecuting attorney agreed to review the arrangements with prison authorities. Judge Scheindlin gave prosecutors a week to arrange improved conditions.

Defense Attorney Albert Dayan, who recently was appointed to represent Bout, said he was satisfied with the judge’s order. "She said that if the government is not successful in convincing the Bureau of Prisons of giving us a better room to have legal visits in, she will order the Bureau of Prisons to accommodate our request. The current conditions are horrible, actually."

Dayan said he is now required to meet Bout in a small cubicle, with the two men separated by a thick glass window. Dayan said his client also is complaining about the prison food because it is non-vegetarian.

Bout’s wife, Alla, who was in the courtroom during the hearing, told reporters that her husband is being held in a solitary confinement and that he has not been given access to the prison library.

The defense lawyers representing Bout recently replaced the original court-appointed attorneys. Because they are new to the case, they asked the judge to delay the legal proceedings. Judge Scheindlin agreed to postpone the next hearing for 45 days, and moved the beginning of the trial itself from September 12 to October 11.

The United States says Bout is an international weapons trafficker who assembled a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world. The government charges that he attempted to supply weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC, for use in killing Americans. The United States describes FARC as a terrorist organization.

Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and was held there until last November, when he was extradited to the United States. He describes himself as a businessman, and he has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

The judge ordered additional court hearings in April and May, in advance of the October trial date.