A judge in New York City has set September 12 for the start of the trial in U.S. federal court of accused Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The date was set on January 21 by Judge Shira Scheindlin during a hearing in Manhattan attended by the former Soviet Air Force officer.
Sabrina Shroff, Bout's court-appointed attorney, told the judge she planned to challenge the government's case on the grounds that U.S. agents violated Thailand's laws when they recorded 90 minutes of conversation with Bout on the day of his arrest.
She also maintains that the United States has no jurisdiction to prosecute Bout since none of the crimes he is charged with took place on U.S. soil. "It's a manufactured jurisdiction," Shroff said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire told the judge, "There is a nexus here."
Judge Scheindlin called the legal challenges "serious and difficult" and set a schedule for them to be submitted to the court.
Bout, 43, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 in a U.S.-led operation and was extradited to the United States last November. Russia tried and failed to prevent his extradition.
Bout, who is being held in U.S. custody without bail, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he offered to sell arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces Of Colombia, which is officially regarded as a narco-terrorist group by the U.S. government, and conspiring to kill U.S. citizens.
Bout insists he was a legitimate air-cargo businessman. If convicted, he faces between 25 years and life in prison.
Bout has also faced allegations that for years he trafficked arms to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America, and the Middle East.
Bout's family has been in New York for more than two weeks but was only recently able to secure a three-hour visit with him, scheduled for January 24. Bout is being held in a maximum security detention facility in downtown Manhattan.
Bout's wife, Alla, claimed he was not extradited from Thailand but abducted, and that no extradition related documents exists. Attending the hearing with Bout's teenage daughter Liza and his mother Raisa, Alla Bout complained that her husband appeared exhausted after being kept in solitary confinement in U.S. jail.
"My first impression is that he looks really bad, exhausted, worn down," she said. "Undoubtedly this is a man of great spirit, as is all our family. He is a real Russian with real Russian attitude."
Andrei Yushmanov, an official from Russia's Consulate-General in New York, said that the Consulate requested but has not received any evidence from the U.S. authorities on Bout's alleged criminal activities.
Alla Bout said the family was considering whether to hire an experienced private attorney. "I can't say for sure that we are looking for a new lawyer," she said, "it is just that we came here just recently and would like to hear more than one [legal] opinion regarding the case against my husband."
Bout's defense asked and received until March 25 to familiarize itself in detail with the charges against Bout. The full indictment against him is more than 1,000 pages long.
written by Nikola Krastev, with agency reports