MOSCOW, September 27 (RAPSI) - A federal US appeals court affirmed Friday a New York district court’s conviction of Viktor Bout, but remanded the case for the correction of a clerical error in the judgment.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 as a result of an elaborate sting operation. Shortly after his arrest, US authorities issued an indictment against him. He was extradited to the US in 2010, after lengthy Thai extradition proceedings.
Bout was convicted by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York of conspiracy to kill US national, conspiracy to kill US officers and employees, conspiracy to acquire and export a missile system designed to destroy aircraft, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He was later sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Bout appealed the verdict on a number of bases. First, he claimed that the government’s conduct constituted “outrageous or vindictive prosecution in violation of his constitutional right to due process of law,” according to Friday's appeal verdict. Second, he claimed that his extradition was illegal due to the fact that it resulted from “intense, coercive political pressure” by the US. Third, he claimed that his prosecution was in violation of the “doctrine of specialty.” And fourth, he claimed that the indivtment insufficiently stated certain of the offenses listed.
With regard to Bout’s claim of vindictive prosecution, the court held that, “the government’s motivation to prosecute Bout stemmed from widespread concern that he was engaged in criminal conduct, as evidenced by his placement on numerous United States and United Nations ‘sanctions lists’ since the early 2000s.” Accordingly, the court concluded that his allegations failed to meet the threshold that must be reached in a vindictive prosecution claim.
Furthermore, the court explained that Bout’s claims in this regard amounted to claims that international sting operations against foreign citizens are coercive de facto. The court referenced an earlier case centering on international sting operations, where the court held that, “[w]hile the sting operation in this case was elaborate and prolonged, there was no coercion or physical force, and nothing done was outrageous or a shock to the conscience.”
The court next considered Bout’s claim of “intense, coercive political pressure.” Bout had argued, according to the opinion, that his extradition from Thailand to the US was the result of such pressure by the US, thus casting a shroud of impropriety over his prosecution.
The court disagreed, holding that the US courts cannot second-guess another country’s decision to extradite a defendant. Furthermore, the court cited case law in asserting: ““the government’s power to prosecute a defendant is not impaired by the illegality of the method by which it acquires control over him.”
The “doctrine of specialty” prohibits prosecution for crimes other than that for which a given defendant was extradited. Bout had asserted, according to the opinion, that in choosing to extradite him the Thai appeals court had believed he would be prosecuted for trying to sell arms to actual FARC members, as opposed to the individuals merely posing as such as part of a sting operation.
To this, the court opined: “A review of the record discloses that the Thai court was aware that Bout was caught in a sting operation, rather than a conspiracy with actual FARC buyers. Accordingly, Bout’s claim lacks any factual basis in the record.”
With regard to Bout’s claim that the indictment lacked sufficient clarity, the court held, “Here, there is no doubt that the allegations in the indictment make it sufficiently clear that the crimes charged were for conspiracy to commit murder.”
Friday’s appeal verdict concluded: “We find no merit to any of the defendant’s claims, and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of conviction of the District Court and remand the cause for the limited purpose of correcting a clerical error in the judgment.”
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.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it is “disappointed” with the US court’s rejection of Bout’s appeal, saying it “confirms the unjust and politicized nature of the case against the Russian.”
Russia has repeatedly expressed outrage over the detention of its citizens in third countries who have been extradited to face criminal charges in the United States, which does not have an extradition treaty with Moscow.