George Mapp – The DEA sting operation dubbed ‘Relentless’ ironically may have been both Viktor Bout’s demise as well as sparing him a life behind bars in a U.S. Federal penitentiary. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said 25 years was sufficient and appropriate because there was no evidence the 45-year-old Bout would have been charged with seeking to harm Americans if not approached by informants posing as Colombian rebels.
“But for the approach made through this determined sting operation, there is no reason to believe Bout would ever have committed the charged crimes,” Scheindlin said.
Inside The Court Room
On Thursday afternoon 5 April 2012 their was a very large crowd gathering outside room 15C that was comprised mostly of journalists but also included sketch artists, Federal agents and other attorneys. The Federal marshals began to let people in at approximately 4:10pm. After several postponements at the request of Viktor Bout’s defense attorney, his long anticipated sentencing would finally take place. They allowed the journalists to fill the entire jury box, the entire right side of the court room as well as having additional folding chairs added on both sides of the room. In addition room 26A was designated as an overflow room for those that did not make it inside room 15C but would see the sentencing via closed circuit TV.
Inside room 15C the Federal marshals were wearing bullet proof vests underneath their shirts for the 1st time during the proceeding as well as having extra marshals and close protection guards for Viktor Bout. I was in the second row directly behind the DEA agents. To my right was Viktor’s daughter Lisa, then Alla and next to her was the New York Russian Vice-Consul Alexander Otchaynov.
Viktor Bout whom I just saw face-face less than 24 hours earlier at his prison in Brooklyn was wearing tan khaki’s. His hair was freshly cut and cut much closer than he has usually been wearing it over the last several years. He told his wife Alla in Russian that everything is going to be okay and gave her a thumbs up and his classic wink. The judge entered the packed court room at approximately 4:41pm.
Andrei Garkusha a member of Bout’s defense team — whom would later translate Bout’s Russian to English — got a front row seat during the proceedings. He sat to Viktor Bout’s left and to Bout’s right was defense attorney’s Albert Dayan and to his right attorney Kenneth Kaplan.
Viktor Bout addressed the judge and the court room and spoke for the first time during the proceedings. He stood up tall and straight directly facing the judge and said “I am not guilty,” in Russian as Garkusha translated. Bout suddenly spun around to face the three DEA agents in the first row — including agent William S. Brown who testified against Bout — less than 3 feet from his out stretched arm and pointed finger. He looked angrily directly into agent Brown’s eyes and said, “The truth is known to these people.”
Bout still staring and pointing at the DEA agents as he continued to speak,“They will have to live with this truth, they will go to bed with this truth, they will have to get up with this truth, they will raise their children with this truth, and they will love their wives with this truth.”
Bout added, “Let God forgive you, and you will answer to him, not to me.”
Shortly after Bout sat down lead prosecutor Brendan McGuire stood up to try and make a hard sale to the judge why Bout should be sentenced to life. When McGuire said that Bout had agreed to sell weapons to kill Americans, Bout shouted in English, “It’s a lie!”
Finally when Bout was being led out of the court room, he told his wife and daughter that he loved them. He then sang a line from an old Soviet military song called “Varyag,” saying that he would never surrender.
Defense attorney Albert Dayan argued on Thursday that the government’s case had “built-in reasonable doubt” because it was based entirely on Bout’s promises, rather than his actions.
Dayan insisted that the case consisted of “nothing but talk,” referring to the hours of secretly recorded conversations in which Bout arranged arms sales with the phony FARC guerrillas.
Dayan claimed that the U.S. Constitution protected such talk. Claiming that the U.S. wanted Bout’s head on a “silver platter,” Dayan compared his client to Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish French officer whose false treason charges came to symbolize the virulence of European anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon McGuire said that Dayan’s comparison, and Bout’s outrage, were not worthy of comment. “Frankly, they don’t merit any response,” McGuire said.
Bout in a recent Voice of Russia radio interview insists he’s innocent. He said charges against him were fabricated. He accused media scoundrels of repeating “sensationalist and irresponsible coverage of his case.”
An article titled, Viktor Bout: Victimized by U.S. Injustice had this to say,
Twice Thai courts exonerated him [Viktor Bout] for lack of evidence. Yet he was held and extradited to America. It was extraordinary rendition Thailand-style.
According to a Ria Novosti article, titled, Moscow Condemns Bout Sentence and Seeks Return:
“I think he (Bout) was railroaded all the way”, said Russell Mace, a criminal defense lawyer who has been defending individuals and companies in federal court throughout the United States for many years.
He also pointed out some drawbacks in the Bout’s defense. “I cannot believe no defense witnesses were called and in my opinion there should have been a rather extensive defense”, he said.
Questions Remained Unanswered
The biggest question to me that still remains unanswered is, where is Misha? Misha Belozerosky accompanied Viktor Bout from Moscow to Bangkok, Thailand in March 2006. Misha was mentioned very briefly in the trial and even appeared on the DEA’s undercover tapes admitted into evidence. However, during the sting operation, Misha was not charged nor arrested and jumped into a taxi to the airport and flew back to Russia. Misha like a magician turned invisible and escaped the biggest and most expensive DEA sting operation and eluded both Thai and U.S. authorities. According to author and investigative journalist Daniel Estulin in an article titled, The Making of a Legend: Viktor Bout, Misha is a Russian colonel. On Estulin’s website he has a vast amount of links and original documents including a passport photo of Misha which clearly has the Thai arrival and departure stamp on the right side.
The second biggest question in my mind concerning the trial is when exactly did the DEA flip Andrew Smullian? Actually, that question has actually been answered by defense attorney Albert Dayan during the trial and Viktor Bout recently in his recent Voice of Russiaradio interview. Therefore my question is, how come this point wasn’t picked up by the jury?
Perhaps the defense didn’t hammer this point home or focus enough? It is easy to second guess a trial after it is over. The point is that before Bout arrived in Bangkok, Smulian had purchased a one way ticket to New York. This debunks what the DEA said and what Smulian said about when he began to cooperate with the sting operation and help them to capture Bout, his longtime business associate. Smulian shared an apartment with DEA informant Mike Snow — who was contacted by the DEA to capture Bout — and claims to know nothing of Snow’s involvement with the DEA sting. Smulian, a former South African intelligence officer also claims he didn’t know about the wiretaps and used a phone given to him by Snow allegedly without suspicion.
This is extremely significant. Right before the jury deliberated on the verdict, the judge gave her instructions to them. She explicitly said that there can not be a conspiracy charge if Bout was dealing solely with DEA agents and / or informants. Thus, if Smulian admitted that he was working for the DEA prior to the arrest, the prosecutions case would have be null, void and invalid. Thus the entire prosecutions case relied solely on Smulian and the DEA’s collusion — Smulian admitted to meeting with prosecutors approximately 50 times in preparation for the trial — that they were not working together. Anyone who sat through the entire trial like me could see easily tell Smulian — whom never once made direct eye contact with Bout — would sell his own children for money or his freedom. In other words, his lies were very transparent. But you need not take my word for it, the transcripts of his testimony will back me up. I am also very fortunate to have been to South Africa at least 8 times as well as having traded South Africa equities and Eskom bonds for over a decade. Therefore I am extremely and intimately familiar with both the country and its people.
The curious case of Viktor Bout is not over by any means. There are still court proceedings going on currently in Thailand questioning the validity of his extradition to America. Russian politicians made a lot of noise after Bout’s 25 year sentence was announced vowing to bring him home as well as saying he will be a topic of conversation with President Obama. Albert Dayan also announced his intentions to file an appeal. Rumors of political intervention or a possible prisoner swap for Bout’s return to Russia are rampant. Finally, Viktor Bout said in Russian when he spoke to the court that he is confident that soon he will be back home in Russia. Perhaps he knows something that the rest of us do not yet know?
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