June 16 (Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for Viktor Bout, an alleged international arms dealer, argued that the U.S. doesn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute him for meeting outside the country to arrange a weapons sale to rebels in Colombia.
In a hearing in Manhattan federal court today, Bout’s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin to dismiss the charges against their client, claiming they don’t adequately allege he knew the arms were to be used against U.S. citizens and interests.
Bout was arrested in 2008 in Bangkok by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in a sting operation. The government claims undercover agents told Bout they were buying weapons for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, including surface-to-air missiles, armor-piercing rocket launchers and machine guns.
According to prosecutors, the agents told Bout the weapons were to be used to kill Americans.
Scheindlin said the case for trying Bout in the U.S. “looks thin” compared with others in which judges ruled that U.S. laws applied to foreign terrorists. She didn’t rule on the issue today.
Bout, a Russian citizen, was brought to New York in November after his extradition from Thailand. He attended the hearing wearing jail fatigues and listening to a Russian translation of the arguments.
FARC, classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, was founded in 1964 as a rural, peasant Marxist insurgency. The group traffics in cocaine to fund its activities and stages kidnappings for ransom, according to the U.S. government.
Prosecutors in the case agreed to stop calling Bout the “Merchant of Death” in the indictment against him after defense attorneys objected.
The case is U.S. v. Bout, 08-cr-0365, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
--With assistance from Chris Dolmetsch in New York. Editors: Andrew Dunn, Stephen Farr
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