'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout Convicted on Arms-Dealing Charges

 @DanRivoli on November 03 2011 10:32 AM
Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout speaks to the media after arriving at a Bangkok criminal court August 20, 2010.
Accused international arms dealer Viktor Bout, shown here in a Bangkok jail, was convicted in New York for attempting to sell a Colombian rebel group millions of dollars in weapons. REUTERS

The Merchant of Death Viktor Bout, an accused Russian arms dealer, was convicted Wednesday of conspiring to sell weapons worth millions of dollars to a Colombia rebel group.

In 2008, Bout was indicted after he was busted in a sting operation in Thailand with confidential sources posing as members of FARC, which the U.S. considers to be a terrorist group. Thai law enforcement arrested Bout and he was extradited to New York last year.

A federal jury in Manhattan found Bout guilty on all four conspiracy counts. Bout, 44, faces life in prison.

With today's swift verdict, justice has been done and a very dangerous man will be behind bars, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for Southern District of New York said in a statement. Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries. He aimed to sell those weapons to terrorists for the purpose of killing Americans.

A Prolific Arms Dealer

Though his trial focused on his attempted dealings with FARC representatives, Bout is considered a prolific arms dealer since the 1990s, supplying weapons in conflict zones such as Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

The United Nations froze Bout's assets because of his support for Sierra Leone President Charles Taylor's brutal regime. Bout's support was an effort to gain illicit access to diamonds, according to the U.N.

He was the subject of a book Merchant of Death and was the basis for Nicolas Cage's character in the 2005 movie Lord of War.

For the sting operation, two phony FARC representatives working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reached out to Bout's associate Andrew Smulian to set up a weapons deal. The deal involved 800 surface-to-air missiles, 30,000 AK-47 rifles, five tons of C-4 explosives and 10 million rounds of ammunition, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Viktor Bout's arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts have been a source of concern around the globe for decades, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. He faces the prospect of life in prison for his efforts to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to terrorists for use in killing Americans.

Bout's defense attorney, Albert Dayan, argued that the deal was to sell two cargo planes, not weapons. Dayan said that an appeal will be filed. Prosecutors have said that Bout carried out his weapons deals with a fleet of aircraft.

Bout's guilty verdict sparked outrage in Russia, which is attempting to bring him back to the country, according to the BBC.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the U.S. broke international standards during Bout's arrest and interrogation, such as subjecting him to unjustifiably harsh detention conditions.

Our goal is to ensure his return home, a ministry spokesman said, according to the BBC report.

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