The trial of alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called "Merchant of Death" whose globe-spanning career inspired the movie "Lord of War," began Wednesday in New York, with federal prosecutors charging that Bout wanted to kill Americans and sold weapons to anti-American rebels.
According to prosecutors, Bout agreed to sell the Colombian narco-terrorist organization, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), millions of dollars worth of weapons -- "including surface-to-air missile systems; armor-piercing rocket launchers; AK-47 firearms; millions of rounds of ammunition; Russian spare parts for rifles; anti-personnel land mines; C-4 plastic explosives; night-vision equipment; 'ultralight' aircraft that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles; and unmanned aerial vehicles."
A former Soviet military officer, the 44-year-old Bout could face life in prison if convicted on all four counts of arms trafficking. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting and extradited to the U.S. in 2010 over the Russian government's objections after a two-year legal battle.
The defense is expected to raise questions about the legality of his arrest and extradition. Bout has pled not guilty to the charges, and the Russian government has described Bout as an innocent businessman.
Bout's career of arms dealing in Africa and elsewhere formed the basis for the 2005 Nicolas Cage action movie "Lord of War." Because of the publicity around the case, Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered jurors to sign a pledge not to research the case online or post information about their involvement as jurors on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
Scheindlin questioned would-be jurors on Tuesday to make sure they could remain objective despite mentions of weapons including high-powered rifles, missile launchers and Stinger missiles. She also wanted jurors who would not be disturbed by allegations that Bout may have engaged in arms trafficking in Africa years ago that is not subject to U.S. law.
Bout was arrested in Thailand after he allegedly told two DEA informants during a covertly recorded meeting that he could sell them surface-to-air missiles which the operatives, posing as members of FARC, specifically indicated were going to be used to attack U.S. helicopters in Colombia.
The narco-terrorist FARC is said by the DEA to be the world's largest supplier of cocaine.
So massive were his alleged weapons shipments, alleges the government in court documents, that Bout needed a fleet of cargo planes "capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East."