Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been sentenced to 20 years in jail in the United States for conspiring to smuggle cocaine to the country earlier this year, said he believed that his trial was linked to the prosecution of suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“I was regularly forced to testify against him in exchange for freedom and residence permit [in the United States] for my all family – my mother, wife Viktoria and 14-year-old daughter Katya,” Yaroshenko said in an interview with Russian daily Izvestia published on Monday.
Yaroshenko, 43, was arrested in an international drug bust in Liberia last year. Convicted by a New York jury in April, he was sentenced on September 7. He filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in late September.
The trial against Bout, who faces life in prison on charges including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and sell missiles to terrorists, started earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It is expected to continue for three or four weeks.
Bout, 44, was arrested in a U.S. sting operation in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. in November 2010. Prosecutors maintain that the Russian, dubbed the Merchant of Death by a British politician, was negotiating the sale of heavy weaponry to FARC, a Colombian militant group, when he was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008. He denies all the charges against him.
Yaroshenko said he was recently visited by a group of unfamiliar men who introduced themselves as lawyers and promised him “favors in prison” in exchange for information about Bout’s cargo transportation schemes.
But the pilot told the newspaper he had “never met with Bout and never flown his planes.”
“I first heard [Bout’s] name from agents on a flight from Liberia to the United States,” Yaroshenko said. “After three days of torture, I could hardly get it. I just understood that they were interested in what Bout was doing in Africa, particularly in Angola.”
He added that his “only hope” was the Russian authorities and his extradition to Russia.
Moscow has already pledged to fight for Yaroshenko’s release, denouncing his verdict as a “virtual kidnapping of a Russian citizen.”
MOSCOW, October 17 (RIA Novosti)