May 6, 2008 -- An alleged arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of Death" has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he conspired to kill Americans and supported a terrorist organization.
The unsealing of the indictment against Viktor Bout could pave the way for his extradition to the United States from Thailand. Thai authorities arrested Bout March 6 in a joint operation with Drug Enforcement Administration agents under a U.S. complaint for conspiracy to provide weapons to the FARC, a Colombian rebel group has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Thai authorities dropped charges against Bout after Russia requested that he be sent to that country, although he faces no charges there. Bout has denied that he was involved in any illegal deals.
Bout has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers and employees, conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist group.
Bout had long been wanted by authorities for allegedly fueling violence in conflict zones around the globe in Africa, Central Asia, Europe and South America. Originally from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Bout has allegedly profited by providing weapons and transport into the world's most hostile environments, including civil wars in the Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The U.S. Treasury Department claimed in 2005 that Bout earned $50 million from supplying the Taliban armaments when they ruled Afghanistan. Bout also apparently profited from U.S. contracts in Iraq when the United States unwittingly had used some of his pilots to deliver supplies into the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The alleged arms dealer openly lived in Moscow since at least 2002, but was lured out of Russia to close a purported arms deal which he believed to be worth $15-$20 million.
According to the criminal complaint and the newly unsealed indictment, after a series of meetings between November 2007 and March 2008 with Bout, his alleged associate Andrew Smulian and two DEA confidential informants, Bout agreed to provide the FARC with weapons including missiles, automatic weapons and armor piercing rocket launchers.
Bout and the DEA informants set up the final arrangements for the alleged deal at a hotel in Bangkok. During the March 6, 2008 meeting, which was covertly taped by the DEA, Bout allegedly indicated that he could supply the FARC with "700 to 800 surface to air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 firearms …[and] millions of rounds of ammunition."
The indictment also alleges that Bout told the informants that he could provide them with land mines, C-4 explosives, armed ultralight aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. Smulian, who allegedly worked with Bout in the mid- to late-1990s on various weapon deals, is also facing U.S. charges and has been extradited to New York.
Tuesday's indictment alleges that "Bout indicated that he understood that [the confidential sources] wanted the arms for use against U.S. forces in Colombia and advised that the United States was also his enemy … Bout offered to provide people to train the FARC in the use of the arms."
During the meeting Bout allegedly diagrammed potential airdrop locations for the weapons and "offered to sell two cargo planes to the FARC that could be used for arms deliveries," according to the indictment. Bout was arrested after the meeting. If convicted, Bout could receive life in prison for the conspiracy to kill Americans and up to 25 years for providing support to the FARC.
DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Loenhart said in a statement, "With the unsealing of this indictment, we are one step closer to ensuring Bout has delivered his last load of high-powered weaponry and armed his final terrorist."