MOSCOW, February 21 - RAPSI. The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has announced that Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in the United States for colluding to sell drugs, worked for Russian businessmen Viktor Bout, the BBC Russian Service reports.
A former Soviet military officer, Viktor Bout was sentenced to 25 years in medium-security prison in Marion, Illinois on charges of arms trafficking.
Bout was convicted in November 2011 of conspiracy to murder US nationals, including military officers and employees, and to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including hundreds of portable surface-to-air missiles and over 20,000 AK-47s, to the Colombian rebel group FARC.
Bout has consistently denied the charges against him. Russia attempted to have Bout extradited from the United States in line with the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, but without success.
Bout's story gained popular notoriety through the success of the Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War, a story that is said to be loosely based on Bout's life - although a highly sensationalized version of his life story.
The BBC cited the US prosecutors' reply to the appeals filed by Yaroshenko's defense attorneys, which openly states that Yaroshenko was working as a pilot for Bout.
This is the first time the prosecution has made such a claim.
Previously, reports the BBC, the prosecution stated that Yaroshenko had been in the smuggling business for years and that he had also mentioned Bout a number of times during his confidential conversations with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Yaroshenko was sentenced to 20 years in prison for colluding to smuggle a cocaine shipment to the United States. The bait was an ad posted by the DEA agents about selling a cargo plane for $1, to which he responded.
Yaroshenko pleaded innocence at the trial. He said that his poor English prevented him from understanding the nature of the deal with the DEA agents. He claimed that he did want to buy a cargo plane, but did not plan to use it to transport drugs.
The tapes of Yaroshenko's conversations with special agents posing as drug dealers and the agents' oral testimony were the main pieces of evidence presented to the jury in 2011, which then passed the guilty verdict.
Yaroshenko's lawyer Alexei Tarasov claims that the evidence presented at the trial of the Russian pilot was not conclusive.
Yaroshenko and Nigerian Chigbo Peter Umeh were arrested in Liberia in an undercover operation in May 2010. Shortly after, both were flown to the United States, where Umeh was sentenced to 30 years and Yaroshenko to 20 years for attempted drugs trafficking.
The prosecution maintains that Yaroshenko accepted a proposition from US agents to bring four tons of cocaine from South America to Africa, and then to the United States.
He arrived in Liberia in May 2010 to discuss his fee with his Colombian partners. He was offered $4.5 million to take the cocaine from Venezuela to Liberia and an extra $1.8 million for taking the drugs to Nigeria and Ghana, from where a portion was to be taken to the United States.
Yaroshenko is currently serving his prison sentence at the low security Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, New Jersey.