Bout lawyer cites Thai witness death in new trial bid

A Texas lawyer for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout is citing the death of a Thai witness and undisclosed evidence in a legal push for a new trial for the Russian prisoner.

Alexey Tarasov, who signed on late last year as one of several new lawyers seeking a new trial for Bout, disclosed in a December court filing that the defense team was pressing for information from two Thai police officials when one of those authorities turned up dead.

Bout was held by Thai authorities in a Bangkok jail for more than two years after he was arrested by Thai police and U.S. narcotics agents. Bout was turned over to U.S. authorities and extradited to New York, where he was convicted in 2011 and sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in federal prison. He is now held in a federal prison in Marion, Ill.

According to a 4-page statement Tarasov filed Dec. 19 in federal district court in Manhattan, defense team members had made arrangements to meet in mid-November with Thai Police Col. Akrawut Limrat about the case.¬†Tarasov said he was informed that Limrat “was responsible for bringing Bout to court hearings in Bangkok, and that he was the one who escorted Bout to meet U.S. agents for defendant’s custody to be transferred.”

But the meeting did not occur and on Nov. 23, Limrat was “found dead with three spinal fractures.” Tarasov said that Lt. Gen. Pongpat Chayaphan, another Thai police official who he had hoped to speak with, had been “relieved from his position and arrested on charges of lese-majeste. (state crimes)”

The Bangkok Post reported Nov. 23 that the two men were among a group of Thai officers who were removed from their posts earlier in the month. They were then charged with state crimes ranging from bribery and money-laundering to forestry destruction. Limrat, who was among those removed from their posts, reportedly died after a “fall from a high place.”

Tarasov asked US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, the judge overseeing the Bout case, for more time to reach to talk with Chayaphan and determine whether “the death of his subordinate Col. Limrat is connected to the Bout case.”

The judge extended the deadline for Bout’s lawyers to submit legal briefs to April 1. In Bout’s 2012 trial, Scheindlin repeatedly turned down attempts by Bout’s lawyers to question the circumstances of Bout’s arrest and extradition and it is unclear whether the new evidence would be damaging enough to undermine the government’s handling of Bout’s arrest and extradition.

The Russian businessman was lured to Bangkok in March 2008 by undercover informants posing as South American narco-terrorists but secretly working for a Drug Enforcement Administration strike team as part of a sting operation. Bout’s previous lawyers claimed that the U.S. government vindictively prosecuted Bout and meddled in Thai’s internal affairs to secure his extradition, but Scheindlin would not rule on those charges.