A New York jury has convicted the so-called "Merchant of Death," Viktor Bout, on charges he tried to sell weapons to Colombian terrorists with the knowledge they were intended for use against Americans.
"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."
"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. Today, he faces the prospect of life in prison."
Bout is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 8. The jury deliberated over two days following a three-week trial. Bout, a Russian national, had been extradited from Thailand, where he was caught in a sting operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
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.
"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.
Bout's attorney had portrayed him as an innocent businessman looking only to unload some cargo planes. His case raised tensions between the US and Russia. Bout attorney Albert Dayan said, "The jury never got past the prejudicial impact of the very charges, the supposed false claim to kill Americans, which was designed by the investigators for that very purpose."
Russian politicians sent Judge Shira A. Scheindlin a letter urging fairness.
But Michael Braun, a former DEA agent involved in the case and currently managing partner of Spectre Group International, said the evidence "was nothing short of damning, which is why the jury only deliberated for a day and half."
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."