Victor Bout sold death, the government alleges, and now he faces life.
Dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for his reputed international arms deals, including the alleged attempted sale of weapons to terrorists, Bout was extradited from Thailand to New York following a two-year negotiation process.
The suspected arms dealer arrived at New York's Westchester County Airport in manacles Tuesday night following a flight from Bangkok aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration charter plane. As he deplaned a helmet was slapped on his head and he was packed into a government SUV with a team of federal agents for the trip to Manhattan, where he will be held at the Metropolitan Correction Center during his trial. He now faces 25 years to life in a federal prison if convicted on all counts of a four-count federal arms-trafficking indictment.
One of the federal agents who accompanied Bout on the chartered flight from Bangkok described the prisoner, despite his fearsome reputation, as "very affable on the plane, very professional, cordial."
"He was very business-like," said the agent. "He was dealing with it. He knew what was happening, going to the United States, going to New York and he was taking it one thing at a time."
Bout's extradition followed a bruising bout of diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia. And the Associated Press noted that his extradition could jeopardize cooperation a number of significant issues including arms control, nuclear weapons curbs and the war in Afghanistan.
A former Soviet military officer, Bout stood accused of arming failed states and insurgents across the Third World since the 1990s, but he had never been arrested, the AP reported.
According to the Dept. of Justice, between November 2007 and March 2008, Bout, a Russian, allegedly agreed to sell to 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."
World's Largest Supplier of Cocaine
During a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand, he allegedly told two confidential informants of the Drug Enforcement Administration 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."
"With Viktor Bout now behind bars in the United States, this defendant will finally face his most feared consequence: accountability for his alleged crimes in a court of law," Michele M. Leonhart, Acting Administrator of the DEA, said in a statement. "For more than a decade, Mr. Bout is alleged to have plied a deadly trade in surface-to-air missiles, land mines, bullets, death and destruction.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. added, "Viktor Bout allegedly jumped at the chance to arm narco-terrorists bent on killing Americans with an arsenal of military grade weapons. Today's successful extradition underscores our commitment to protect Americans on our own soil and throughout the world."
"Viktor Bout is in custody today as a result of a bold and innovative DEA operation," said Bharara.
According to Bharara, who cited court documents, the operation used undercover operatives and confidential sources on three continents, and the case against Bout includes covertly recorded meetings, emails, accomplice testimony and telephone conversations.
Asked to comment on Russian anger and allegations that Bout's extradition was illegal, Bharara said, "We complied with our law, international law and Thai law."
Bout is scheduled to be presented in Manhattan federal court Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, to whom the case has been assigned.