Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been sentenced to 25 years in a U.S. jail, called on Russia on Thursday to launch a legal suit against the United States and Thailand on his behalf.
“I would like to ask State Duma lawmakers to have Russia file a lawsuit on my behalf against the United States and Thailand to an international сourt,” Bout said, speaking by phone from his Brooklyn cell during a video link with his wife between New York and Moscow organized by RIA Novosti.
A U.S. court found Bout guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and sell arms to Colombian militants. Last week, the Russian, who was dubbed the “Merchant of Death” in the United States, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay a $15-million fine. He maintains his innocence.
Bout called for a special commission to be set up in the State Duma to “establish facts and the truth” about the circumstances of his arrest in Thailand in March 2006, his subsequent extradition to the United States, and his trial in New York.
Bout was arrested as a result of a sting operation in Bangkok in which U.S. informants posed as Colombian rebels. He was handed over to the United States to face the courts in November 2010.
Bout’s wife, Alla, said during the video link that “four petitions addressed to [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov have been filed to the Russian Foreign Ministry” on her husband’s behalf concerning the hoped-for lawsuit against the United States and Thailand.
She said, however, she was not sure about the outcome “because there has been no such precedent” in the history of Russian-U.S. relations.
Bout’s defense plans to appeal his sentence. His lawyer, Albert Dayan, said on Thursday the whole appeal procedure was likely to be completed “within a year.”
Bout’s repatriation ‘possible?’
The Russian Foreign Ministry has strongly criticized Bout’s prosecution as being a result of “political order,” describing his sentence as “categorically unacceptable, biased and lacking objectivity,” and has promised to push for Bout’s return to Russia. Earlier on Thursday, Lavrov said Moscow was “concerned about the fate of our citizens, regardless of the accusations against them” and expressed hope that Russia and the United States would be able to agree on the issue.
“We are signatories to a number of relevant international conventions, which ensure collaboration in the area of mutual legal assistance. We will rely on these instruments,” he told Russian journalists in Washington, where he attended a G8 ministerial meeting. He said he had discussed the possibility of Bout’s repatriation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Russia has in particular cited the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, saying this document could make Bout’s return to Russia “possible.” The United States has signed that accord. But the pact is not obligatory and Washington has not made its position clear on the prospect of sending Bout back to Russia.
Bout said on Thursday he believed Russia would be able to secure his return.
“I believe that if Russia gets to the bottom of what happened and makes a confident and strong statement, I will come home very quickly,” he said.
“I don’t see any grounds to keep me in jail in Russia,” he said. “In order to be imprisoned in Russia… I need to commit a crime, which I haven’t.”
Dayan said on Thursday he believed Russia “would not keep a person in jail if it thinks that he is not guilty. This is illogical.” Bout’s wife added she believed her husband would be used as a “bargaining chip” between Moscow and Washington.
Lavrov said last week he believed Bout had been sentenced to 25 years behind bars “undeservedly,” while Alexander Otchainov, the Russian Vice Consul in New York, went further to say in an interview with the Voice of Russia radio station in February: “The Russian position remains the same: Viktor Bout is not guilty.”
Russia’s eagerness to stand for Bout prompted some observers to speculate about his possible links to the Kremlin, a claim that Bout himself strongly dismissed on Thursday.
“Luckily, I don’t have any links with the Kremlin, [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin or [Deputy Prime Minister Igor] Sechin,” he said.