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February 19, 2010 3:01 PM

Alleged Gunrunner Looking for U.S. Legal Guns

Posted by Brian Baxter

Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment on Wednesday against Viktor Bout, an alleged Russian arms dealer, accusing the purported gunrunner of complicity in a range of crimes.

The 38-page indictment charges Bout and American associate Richard Chichakli with violating economic sanctions and money laundering, according to The National Law Journal, a sibling publication. Bout, who remains in Thailand where he was caught in a DEA sting in March 2008, has been fighting extradition to the U.S. Chichakli, a Texas-based accountant accused of aiding Bout, is thought to be hiding in Russia.

The question now is who will represent Bout, a man whose alleged exploits were portrayed by Nicolas Cage in Lord of War, a 2005 film based loosely on the experiences of post-Soviet arms dealers like Bout and Leonid Minin. (Bout is known as the "Merchant of Death," from the title of a 2007 book about his life.)

Clay Scott, Jr., a solo practitioner in Dallas who represents Chichakli, hung up on us when we called him. Bout's Thai attorney, Lak Nitiwatanavichan, could not be located by the time of this post.

We reached out to Dickstein Shapiro litigation coleader Ira Sorkin, who has represented another internationally renowned arms dealer, wealthy Syrian arms trafficker Monzer al-Kassar, for some insight into the charges against Bout. (Al-Kassar was also arrested in a DEA sting and extradited to New York two years ago, according to The New York Times.)

As told in this recent feature story by The New Yorker, Sorkin represented al-Kassar during a trial in federal court in New York that ended in November 2008 with his client convicted on charges he plotted to sell weapons to a group that would use them to kill Americans abroad. The conviction was somewhat overlooked as it came at the height of the financial crisis. Al-Kassar received a 30-year prison sentence in February 2009.

Sorkin says he hasn't been contacted by Bout, nor has he heard of any other lawyers who have been approached stateside. He tells us that the al-Kassar case currently is on appeal and that briefs will be filed under seal shortly.

"One of the issues in the case is classified information that the judge ruled we were not permitted to present to the jury," Sorkin says. "When it was introduced in court, it was done behind locked doors, the courtroom was cleared, and it remains under seal."

Should Bout eventually be extradited to the U.S. to face charges, his lawyers are likely to face similar challenges when preparing his defense.

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