Russia pans US over arms dealer sentence
MOSCOW - Reuters
Alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout from Russia looks on from behind bars at a criminal court in Bangkok in this Oct 4 2010, file photo. REUTERS photoMoscow criticized a U.S. court on April 6 for sentencing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison, calling the ruling groundless and politically motivated and vowing to press the United States to return him to Russia.
Bout, the subject of a book titled “Merchant of Death”, was caught in an undercover sting in Bangkok in 2008 by U.S. agents posing as Columbian guerrillas seeking weapons and later extradited to New York.
His arrest and trial have been an irritant in ties between Russia and the U.S., which face new uncertainty as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin prepares to return to the presidency for a six-year term in May. The Foreign Ministry repeated Russia’s allegations that Bout is the victim of a smear campaign and selective justice. “Long before the sentence was pronounced, Viktor Bout was declared by the (U.S.) authorities to be a ‘merchant of death’ and practically an international terrorist,” it said. It accused unspecified U.S. media of conducting an “absolutely unacceptable ... smear campaign aimed at influencing the jury and the conduct of the trial as a whole”. The Foreign Ministry said Russia would continue to seek Bout’s return to Russia, which it has called for since his arrest. “This issue will doubtless remain among our priorities on the Russia-American agenda,” it said.