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Russia Denounces Bout's Sentencing As 'Political'

Russia on Friday denounced the sentencing of arms dealer Viktor Bout by a US court a day earlier as "unfounded and biased," and warned that his case would "remain among our priorities on the Russian-US agenda".

"Despite the shakiness of the evidence, the illegal nature of his arrest with US intelligence agents in Thailand and subsequent extradition, American justice carried out what was a clearly political order and ignored the arguments of lawyers and numerous appeals at various levels to protect Russian citizens," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement stressed that Moscow would make "all possible efforts to return Viktor Bout to the motherland, using for this all the existing international legal mechanisms."

A day earlier, US Judge Shira Scheindlin had sentenced Bout to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell heavy weaponry to anti-American guerrillas in Colombia. The Russian was charged with four counts of conspiracy to kill Americans, to sell anti-aircraft missiles and to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Judge Scheindlin sentenced Bout to 15-year terms on three of these counts and a required 25-year-minimum for the fourth, all to be served concurrently. She also ordered him to pay $15 million in damages and fees.

The judge said she went with a lighter sentence because Bout was arrested after a U.S. sting operation in 2008 and had never expressed any interest in harming Americans. Bout's attorney, Albert Dayan, has indicated that he intends to appeal the judge's decision.

The Russian was convicted by a US federal jury in November of attempting to sell heavy arms to Colombia's Leftist FARC rebel group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. Nevertheless, the Russian insists that he is innocent of the charges.

During earlier hearings, prosecutors told the jury that Bout had agreed to go through with the arms sale despite being informed by agents posing as FARC members that the weapons were intended to be used against US pilots working with Colombian officials.

Bout's lawyers, however, dismissed those claims, insisting that their client was trying to sell only two old cargo aircraft for $5 million, using the false promise of arms as a bait to lure the Colombian rebels to buy the two aircraft.

Bout, nick-named the "Merchant of Death," was extradited to the United States from Thailand in 2010. He was arrested in March 2008 at Bangkok by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers posing as Colombian rebels trying to buy arms. His extradition came after a long and lengthy legal process in which he was backed by Russia.

Russia had earlier demanded that he be released by Thai authorities, insisting that the ex-Soviet Air Force officer was an innocent businessman facing politically-motivated charges and extradition to the United States.

Soon after his extradition from Thailand on November 16, 2010 after more than two and a half years of legal process, the Russian Foreign Ministry had denounced the Thai decision as an illegal step that "can have no rational explanation or justification."

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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