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Alleged Russian Arms Dealer in US Court

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

Attorneys for accused Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout have filed a motion in U.S. federal court in New York City to suppress statements their client gave American agents the day of his arrest in Thailand in March 2008. The defense team used Monday’s suppression hearing to support its contention that the United States orchestrated the case against Bout.

Viktor Bout alleges in an affidavit that U.S. agents tricked him into speaking even after he told them he was not in the right state of mind immediately after his arrest in Bangkok. Bout’s defense team, however, acknowledges that U.S. agents informed him of his right, according to U.S. law, to remain silent in order to avoid self-incrimination.

At issue is an affidavit filed by Bout, which alleges that U.S. agents threatened him with hunger, disease, and possible rape in Thailand’s notorious prisons if he did not cooperate. The defense also alleges that agents lied to their client by saying Bout had only one opportunity to talk to them before he would be taken into custody by Thai authorities.

Two agents who interviewed Bout, Robert Zachariasiewicz and Louis Milione, took the witness stand in New York to deny having said anything about conditions in Thai prisons, which lack air conditioning. They insisted that Thai officials gave U.S. authorities only one opportunity to question Bout.

The United States alleges the defendant is an international arms trafficker who attempted to supply weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for use in killing Americans. The United States considers the FARC to be a terrorist organization.

Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States last November. Bout says he is a businessman and has pleaded not guilty to charges against him.

One of his attorneys, Albert Dayan, acknowledges Bout did not say anything to U.S. agents that hurts his case. But Dayan said the motion to suppress Bout’s post-arrest statements is part of a defense strategy that alleges Thailand did the bidding of the United States, which allegedly orchestrated the arrest. "So we as the United States, in my opinion, cannot turn a blind eye to what happened in Thailand, because whatever happened in Thailand, in my opinion, is the process of his prosecution by the United States," he said.

Dayan says the United States is, therefore, responsible for all possible due process violations by Thailand. These could include pressuring Bout to talk to U.S. agents when he was not ready or willing. Dayan said the issues involved are complicated and will be the subject of further defense motions. He indicates the defense strategy could also have a bearing on the legality of Bout’s extradition to the United States.

Judge Shira Scheindlin raised questions about the defense approach, saying Thailand appeared to act independently by filing its own arrest warrant against Bout and holding him for two-and-a-half years before his extradition.

Judge Scheindlin did not offer an immediate ruling on Monday’s motion to suppress. Bout’s next hearing is scheduled for June 16. The trial is scheduled to begin in October.