By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout believes he has evidence to justify a new U.S. trial and has hired the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to help him pursue his case.
Bout, 47, is serving a 25-year prison sentence following his November 2, 2011 jury conviction for having conspired to kill U.S. soldiers by way of his agreement to sell weapons to a Colombian rebel group.
According to filings on Monday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Bout hired the Ashcroft Law Firm and Alexey Tarasov, a Houston-based lawyer, to help him obtain a new trial based on unspecified "newly discovered evidence."
Bout had until Monday to formally seek a new trial. He said the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan was "not opposed" to a 60-day extension to allow his new lawyers more time to examine the issues.
Michael Sullivan, a partner at Ashcroft's firm and former U.S. attorney in Massachusetts who would work on the case, declined to comment. Tarasov did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for Bharara declined to comment.
Bout's challenge follows the September 2013 rejection by the federal appeals court in Manhattan of his arguments that his conviction followed a "vindictive" prosecution and his improper extradition from Thailand to face U.S. charges.
Jurors convicted Bout of having agreed to sell arms to informants posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which the U.S. government had deemed a foreign terrorist organization, and conspiring to acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles.
Richard Chichakli, a dual American and Syrian citizen who was a co-defendant of Bout's in a separate prosecution for conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions, was convicted of conspiracy charges in that case last December.
Bout is in a medium-security prison in Marion, Illinois, and is not eligible for release until Dec. 15, 2029. He was the subject of a 2007 book, "Merchant of Death."
Ashcroft served from February 2001 to February 2005 as U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush.
The case is U.S. v. Bout, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-cr-00365.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax and Nate Raymond; Editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool)