Russia is asking the U.S. to allow the transfer home of Viktor Bout, a former Soviet air force officer jailed for 25 years for plotting to sell weapons to a Colombian terrorist group.
“We are concerned about the fate of our citizens, whatever charges they face, and we want them to be in Russia,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments broadcast on state television after talks yesterday with U.S. officials in Washington. There are international conventions that allow Russia to assist Bout, Lavrov said.
Bout, 45, was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 in a sting operation set up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and brought to New York for trial. Jurors found him guilty in November of trying to set up a sale of arms, including surface-to-air missiles, with two men posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.
“I believe that if Russia clears up what happened and asserts its position confidently and firmly, I will return home very soon,” Bout said today from jail during a telephone call with reporters. “What happened to me wasn’t a trial; it was an inquisition.”
Russia repeatedly sought to block Bout’s extradition to the U.S. from Thailand and criticized his conviction as “unjustified” and the result of “political pressure” from the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 25 years, the minimum prison term he faced, on April 6.
Prosecutors said Bout, who also worked as an arms dealer in East Africa in the 1990s, controlled a fleet of as many as 50 cargo planes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to Africa, South America and the Middle East. Bout denied the charges, saying he never intended to sell the weapons.