Pre-trial hearings for Viktor Bout start in US
While Bout maintains his innocence, the media continues to call him The Merchant of Death – and US officials celebrate his arrest.
“The so-called Merchant of Death is now a federal inmate,” announced Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
So who is this merchant of death and why is he getting all of this attention?
“The US over a course of eight years cultivated this image of an evil mastermind. Apparently, they have no other problems nowadays – there is only Viktor Bout,” says Alla Bout, Viktor’s wife. “There is no Osama Bin Laden, no Al-Qaeda, no problems in Afghanistan, no problems in Iraq. There is only Viktor Bout ‘the evil man’”.
Viktor Bout is a Russian cargo-dealing businessman. Chased by the US for a decade, he was arrested in Thailand two years ago upon the request of America.
Though Thai courts twice found him not guilty of any crimes, he was still extradited to the US this November to face four charges which are “conspiring to kill United States nationals, conspiring to kill United States officers and employees, conspiring to use and acquire anti-aircraft missiles and conspiring to provide material support to the FARC,” according to Preet Bharara.
Already dubbed an international arms trafficker by the US, Viktor Bout is being held in a New York prison.
Even though Viktor Bout’s trial date has not even been set yet, the man has spent almost two months in this jail in downtown Manhattan in solitary confinement. His only contact with the outside world consists of meetings with his defense team, as well as check-ups from the Russian consulate once a week.
Having arrived in the US to support their relative, Viktor Bout’s family has already received a far from warm welcome in the States.
His wife Alla was held at the airport for almost three hours.
“The immigration officer asked me if I knew my husband was a terrorist,” Alla Bout said.
While accusations are flying, Bout’s case legally remains in Thailand.
“According to Bout’s Thai and Russian lawyers, his case to this moment remains in a Thai court, meaning there was no official decision of an extradition,” said Aleksandr Otchainov, Vice-Consul at the Russian Consulate in New York.
This has been raising the question of whether the US broke laws in whisking him away onto its soil.
“Viktor Bout has not committed any criminal activity, and has not been found guilty either in the US or in any other country,” Otchainov said.
Viktor Bout claims he is the victim of a propaganda war launched in America.
Bout’s wife believes the case against her husband was fabricated, and calls what happened to him a kidnapping.
“I can accept the possibility that Viktor might have some information that might be of interest to someone,” Alla Bout says. “Why is it that some other countries don’t just think to themselves that there is someone who has some interesting information, and why don’t those governments just drag those people onto their territory?”
Technical pre-trial hearings for Viktor Bout kick off in Manhattan this week but legal experts say it will be months until the start of the trial.
If found guilty by the US Federal court, Viktor Bout could face a life sentence behind bars.
Meanwhile, Viktor Bout has decided to hire a legal adviser to replace the one offered to him by the state. The replacement is expected to be decided on Friday at a preliminary court hearing, where the judge is also to set the trial date.
The problem in the US case against Viktor Bout is that there is not a shred of evidence, since actually the end game in this scandal is Russia and not Viktor Bout, claims investigative journalist Daniel Estulin.
“If they didn’t have Viktor Bout, they would have simply invented another Viktor Bout, because, again, if you’re creating a one-world government, or one-world company, or one of these powerful organizations above government level for control, what you need to do is you need to control the nations who can actually stand in your way,” said Estulin.
“And there is only one nation who has the military power to withstand this onslaught and that is Russia,” he added. “So, every impetus is being made right now to destroy Russia’s credibility.”