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Wednesday
Nov022011

'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout Convicted of Arms Trafficking

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A New York jury has convicted the so-called “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout, on charges he tried to sell weapons to Colombian terrorists.
 
“Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “He aimed to sell those weapons to terrorists for the purpose of killing Americans. With today’s swift verdict, justice has been done and a very dangerous man will be behind bars.”
 
Bout faces life in prison when he’s sentenced Feb. 8. The jury deliberated over two days following a three-week trial. Bout had been extradited from Thailand, where he was caught in a sting operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
 
“With today’s verdict in the Southern District of New York, one of the world’s most notorious merchants in illicit arms has finally been held to account for his heinous criminal profiteering in death and destruction,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Victor Bout profited by arming lawless men with weapons of war, and cared nothing for the potential harm to innocent Americans.”
 
The former Soviet military officer was found guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals in Colombia by selling millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia, a terror group known as FARC. Court records say Bout agreed during conversations with undercover DEA informants to supply surface-to-air missiles, AK-47 rifles, anti-personnel landmines, C-4 plastic explosive, night vision goggles and unmanned drones.
 
“Today, one of the world's most prolific arms dealers is being held accountable for his sordid past,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Viktor Bout's arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts have been a source of concern around the globe for decades.”
 
Bout’s attorney had portrayed him as an innocent businessman looking only to unload some cargo planes.  His case raised tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Russian politicians sent Judge Shira A. Scheindlin a letter urging fairness.
 
Bout has long been suspected of supplying weapons to al Qaeda, the Taliban and African warlords.  He was mentioned in a 2000 United Nations report as a former Air Force officer “strongly suspected to be connected to Russian organized crime.”  The U.N. said he “supplied military equipment and other necessities to all conflict areas in Africa.”
 
Bout is thought to be the inspiration for Nicolas Cage’s character in the 2005 film Lord of War.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep082011

Commerce Confident Trade Agreements Will Pass

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As the battle of the job plans reaches its pinnacle Thursday night with President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, trade agreements have emerged as one of the only areas of consensus in the field of polar opposite ideas for how to reduce America’s 9.1-percent unemployment rate.

Trade agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia have made the list of job-creating policy priorities in every job plan from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to President Obama.

Despite this broad -- and rare -- agreement, the fate of these bills still hangs in the cloud of congressional procedural tactics and partisan wrangling that Capitol Hill became notorious for during the debt ceiling debate.

“The standing of trade is actually pretty high in terms of an area of growing bipartisan consensus,” said John Murphy, the vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Unfortunately, this is a city where trust is in short supply.”

The chamber estimates that opening trade with these three countries could create 380,000 jobs. The free trade agreement with South Korea alone could add a quarter of a million American jobs, Murphy said.

But Democrats have made it clear that they will not consider the trade bills until Republicans vow to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that aids workers who lose their jobs because of increased imports or outsourcing that the trade agreements create.

The TAA, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will add nearly $3 billion to the deficit in five years, has been a tough sell for Republicans. The assistance and job training program’s budget, which was originally slated to cost $5.4 billion over five years, was slashed by nearly a third in order to pull in enough Republican support.

“We believe the numbers are there for passage,” Murphy said. “At a time of fiscal austerity it passed muster on that score so on that basis we believe that there will be a significant number of votes in support of Trade Adjustment Systems.”

Murphy said House freshmen, some of the most conservative members of Congress, have been “very receptive” and “strongly supportive” of the trade agreements, but will almost surely vote against the TAA.

Senate Democrats plan to attach the TAA to the Generalized System of Preferences program which reduces tariffs on imports from 130 countries. The House passed the GSP Wednesday night.

While Murphy said it is “highly likely” that the president will mention the trade agreements in his jobs speech Thursday, the Chamber of Commerce does not think it is necessary for the President to lay out his agenda for how to move the agreements through Congress.

“We are not focused on words, but on what is unfolding,” Murphy said. “And that process started last night with the GSP bill passing in the House.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio