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‘Merchant of Death’ Bout Loses Bid to Overturn Conviction

International arms dealer Viktor Bout failed to overturn his conviction for plotting to sell a terrorist group millions of dollars worth of weapons including surface-to-air missiles.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan rejected Bout’s motion to set aside his conviction today at a hearing where Bout’s lawyer complained that his client is being held under unduly harsh conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

Scheindlin read from a letter sent to her by the lawyer, Albert Dayan, who said Bout has spent 14 months in solitary confinement in the MCC’s Special Housing Unit.

“Unrebutted, it doesn’t seem like a good thing, surely after all this time,” Scheindlin said in court. “It seems harsh, it seems brutal, it seems unnecessary, it seems like something should be done about it.”

Bout, 45, a former Soviet air force officer once called the “merchant of death,” was found guilty of conspiracy by a jury last year for attempting to conduct an arms sale with two men posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. He faces a minimum of 25 years in prison when he’s sentenced March 12.

Bout is seeking to be allowed into the general population at the MCC, Dayan said. Scheindlin set a hearing on the conditions of his confinement for Feb. 10.

Bangkok Arrest

Bout was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 in a sting operation set up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and flown to New York for prosecution.

At today’s hearing, Scheindlin rejected Bout’s arguments that his conviction was legally insufficient and that she failed to give proper instructions to the jury.

Dayan told Scheindlin in the letter that Bout is never exposed to natural sunlight or fresh air. He gets only one visit a week and one telephone call a month. He exercises alone in a room only a little bigger than his cell and doesn’t get enough food, Dayan said.

“He doesn’t know when the sun rises or sets,” Dayan said in the letter.

“He’s very strong, he’s very optimistic,” Dayan told reporters outside the courtroom. “But it is very taxing on an individual’s mental health.”

Dayan said he wants to address Bout’s jail conditions now, to try to avoid having his client sent to the so-called federal “Supermax” unit in Florence, Colorado, where convicted terrorists are often assigned. Dayan said the Supermax is equivalent to being “buried alive.”

“That’s my concern, based on where he is held now, that may lead to Supermax,” Dayan said.

The case is U.S. v. Bout, 08-cr-0365, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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