Russian Viktor Bout Set For U.S. Trial On Arms Charges


Russian Viktor Bout, accused of trafficking arms and nicknamed the "Merchant of Death" in the West, will stand trial in a New York federal court in September, a U.S. judge said on Friday.

Bout made a brief court appearance, with his mother Raisa, daughter Liza and wife Alla there as support, to hear that his trial would begin on September 12.

The 43-year old former Soviet Air Force officer is accused of trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Dressed in gray prison fatigues, Bout said nothing during the hearing as he listened to an interpreter and whispered to his attorney.

Bout was extradited from Thailand in November last year, after his arrest in Bangkok in March 2008 in a U.S.-led sting operation.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva approved the extradition, brushing aside Russian warnings that it could undermine U.S.-Russian ties.

In the sting operation, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents posed as arms buyers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. According to court documents, Bout offered to sell them advanced man-portable surface to air missiles, among other things.

The United States classifies the Colombian group as a terrorist organization and says it is deeply involved in the cocaine trade.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has described Bout's extradition as politically motivated and said it could undermine strengthening U.S.-Russian ties and undo U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" strained relations.

Bout, who for years evaded U.N. and U.S. sanctions aimed at blocking his finances and restricting his movements, has called the charges against him an "American fantasy," and insists he ran a legal business that included a charter air cargo operation.

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