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2 November 2011 Last updated at 16:39 ET Share this pageEmailPrint
Viktor Bout guilty of Colombian rebel arms deal
A former Soviet military officer has been found guilty in a New York
court of attempting to sell heavy weapons to a Colombian terror group.
Prosecutors said Viktor Bout, 44, who has been dubbed the merchant of
death, stood to make millions from supplying weapons to the group.
The defence argued Bout had only wanted to sell two cargo planes.
He was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 after a sting operation in which
US informants posed as Colombian rebels.
He remained in custody in Thailand for two years, before being
extradited to the US to face trial, where prosecutors alleged that he
had tried to sell weapons to Colombia's leftist rebel group, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
After the verdict, Bout hugged one of his lawyers before he was led
Bout was convicted of conspiracy to kill US citizens and officials,
deliver anti-aircraft missiles and provide aid to a terrorist
organisation. "Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that
would be the envy of some small countries," US Attorney Preet Bharara
During Bout's trial, which began on 12 October, prosecutors said the
weapons had been intended to arm the group against what Bout had
called a common enemy: US forces supporting the Colombian government.
In the opening statements of his trial the prosecution alleged that
Bout had agreed to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-
powered rifles and 10m rounds of ammunition to rebels in Colombia in
They told the jury that Bout had been told the weapons would be used
to target US pilots working with Colombian officials. Prosecutors
say Bout replied: "We have the same enemy."
But the defence argued Bout was just trying to sell two old cargo
aircraft for $5m (£3.1m).
"Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just
to sell his planes," lawyer Albert Dayan told the court.
He will be sentenced on 8 February 2012 and could face a maximum term
of life in prison.
The defence has already said that Bout will appeal against the verdict.
The conviction relates only to the alleged arms sale in Thailand, but
US authorities say Bout has sold weapons to dictators and guerrilla
forces in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
It is said that Bout began channelling weapons to war-torn parts of
Africa during the 1990s.
The UN has named him an associate of former Liberian President
Charles Taylor - who is now awaiting judgement for war crimes.
Media reports in the Middle East claim he was a gun-runner for the
Taliban and al-Qaeda - allegations he has flatly denied.
Law enforcement agencies pursued him throughout the last decade.
The Hollywood movie Lord of War, starring Nicholas Cage, was loosely
based on Bout's life.
BBC News, New York
Viktor Bout showed little emotion as the jury's unanimous guilty
verdict was delivered and hugged his lawyer.
This was a potentially risky case for the US government. Bout was
caught in a sting operation by informants working for the US Drug
Enforcement Agency, the so-called Farc rebels were actually former
criminals and might have had their evidence discredited.
But now the man known as the Lord of War for his role selling weapons
to conflicts around the world could face life imprisonment. This case
raised tensions between Russia and the US. Russia saw the extradition
of Bout from Thailand - where he was arrested - to the US as judicial
overreach by the American authorities.
Human rights campaigners are hailing this verdict as a major victory
in the fight against the global arms trade.