By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for agreeing to sell weapons to people he thought were Colombian rebels, urged a U.S. appeals court on Monday to overturn a ruling that denied him a new trial.
Alexey Tarasov, a lawyer for Bout, argued before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that new evidence showed the government had misrepresented a cooperating informant as a co-conspirator to make a case against Bout.
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"There was never any such conspiracy," Tarasov said.
He argued the evidence showed Bout's alleged co-conspirator, former business associate Andrew Smulian, was a government informant throughout the investigation, which means Bout could not have been involved in a conspiracy with him.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou said the evidence was either not new or amounted to out-of-context comments by investigators in a documentary about the case, none of which showed the government sought to recruit Smulian as an agent.
"The evidence is neither material nor likely to lead to an acquittal," Zhou said.
The appeal was the second before the 2nd Circuit in the case against Bout, whose prosecution has at time strained relations between Washington and Moscow.
Prosecutors say Bout, the subject of the book "Merchant of Death" and the inspiration for Nicolas Cage's character in the 2005 movie "Lord of War," supplied military-grade weaponry to conflict zones around the world.
He was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 in a sting operation in which U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informants posed as representatives of the Colombian rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Prosecutors said Bout, 49, had agreed to sell the FARC weapons worth millions of dollars to two informants with the understanding the weapons would be used to attack U.S. helicopters in Colombia.
A federal jury in 2011 found Bout guilty on charges including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and officers and conspiring to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles. He was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison.
After losing an earlier appeal in 2013, Bout asked U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin to grant him a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.
Scheindlin denied his motion in October 2015, saying Bout's evidence could have been discovered before trial, would not have undermined the jury's finding that he and Smulian were co-conspirators, or would not have affected the trial's outcome.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)