Russian arms dealer convicted of trying to supply Colombian rebels


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The Independent US

A Russian arms dealer nicknamed the "merchant of death" has been convicted of attempting to sell 100 tonnes of weaponry to Colombian rebels.

The former Soviet military officer Viktor Bout was accused by prosecutors of providing arms that have fuelled conflicts around the world before he was arrested in Bangkok in an elaborate sting three years ago.

His colourful life was the subject of a book, and the Yuri Orlov character in the film Lord of War is thought to be partly based on Bout. A jury in a federal court in Manhattan reached the verdict yesterday after deliberating for about six hours over two days.

Bout, 44, was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and US officials, delivering anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organisation. He could face life in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for 8 February next year.

The verdict brings to an end what was alleged to be one of the largest gun-running operations in the post-Cold War era. Although he was charged only in connection with the suspected arms deal, US authorities said Bout has been trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

The former Soviet military officer was caught in a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation in 2008 and extradited to New York in 2010 to face terrorism-related charges. The case began when Bout, while under United Nations travel restrictions, was approached in Moscow by an associate about supplying weapons to the Farc rebel group.

In secret negotiations with DEA informants posing as Colombian operatives, Bout "did everything he could to show he could be the one-stop shop for the Farc," the Assistant US Attorney Brendan McGuire said in closing arguments.

Two DEA informants who posed as Farc leaders testified for the prosecution at Bout's trial. One of the informants, Carlos Sagastume, testified about the secretly recorded exchanges with Bout in a Bangkok hotel room.

On one tape, an informant could be heard saying: "We want to knock down those American sons of bitches." "Kill them, and kick them out of my country," the informant says. Bout is quoted as saying on the tapes: "Yes, yes, yes. They act as if... as if it was their home."

Albert Dayan, a defence attorney, told jurors in his closing argument that the government's case was "pure speculation" and that Bout had never intended to sell any weapons. Mr Dayan said Bout had dangled false promises of delivering 100 advanced surface-to-air missiles and approximately 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles only in order to con the alleged Farc representatives into buying two of his old cargo planes.

"The fight is not over. He has various legal options," another of Bout's attorneys, Kenneth Kaplan, told reporters.