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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.

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