Secret agent tells Bout trial of weapons list
An undercover US agent on Wednesday testified that he posed as a Colombian rebel pleading for weapons to fight American troops, and that Russian Viktor Bout personally drew up a shopping list that would make an army proud.
The single sheet of handwritten notes featured in the New York trial of the alleged international black market arms kingpin, who was caught by US agents in a sting operation in a Bangkok hotel in 2008.
The US agent, a former drug trafficker turned highly paid informant who is identified in court papers as Carlos, told the jury how he secretly recorded a meeting in a conference room on the 27th floor of the Sofitel hotel in the Thai capital.
During the meeting, Bout was told by Carlos and another agent posing as a FARC commander that their guerrilla army especially needed anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down US helicopters helping the Colombian government.
Recordings of those conversations were played in court, as well as a portion in which Bout, 44, expressed support for the leftist FARC fighters and their hatred of US troops, or what the agents called "gringos."
"We're together," Bout said in the recording. "Yes, yes, yes and we have the same enemy."
"He was referring to the Americans," Carlos told the New York jury.
Bout has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers say he only met with the pretend FARC representatives to sell two cargo planes. Any talk of weapons, his attorneys say, was to curry favor with the clients.
It was at the culmination of the hotel meeting that Thai police, working with US authorities, arrested Bout, winding up a complex operation across half a dozen countries to lure the Russian into a trap. He was extradited to the United States in 2010.
Prosecutors are relying heavily on the testimony of Carlos and another undercover operative named Ricardo, as well as a former Bout confidant who unwittingly led American agents to the secretive Bout.
The jewel in the prosecution case is the dramatic hotel meeting where Bout jotted down the arsenal he allegedly said he would procure for the FARC.
The list, written in Russian and occasionally Spanish, includes everything from 122 mm shells to plastic explosive, assault rifles, and 10 million rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition.
The most important weapon he allegedly promised was to be a stockpile of Russian-designed, shoulder-held Igla anti-aircraft missiles.
"I need for, uh, anti-aircraft protection, but what's essential, essential is it's portable," the pretend FARC commander named Ricardo says in one of the recordings made by Carlos at the conference table.
"Yes, of course," Bout replies. "That's why the Iglas we talked about."
Defense lawyers on Wednesday said they did not expect to call witnesses in support of Bout. Instead, they will rely on picking holes in the prosecution case during cross-examination.
One avenue may be to question the witnesses' credibility.
Prosecutors say Carlos, originally a Guatemalan military member, then a drug trafficker, is a longtime US agent who has already been paid $7.5 million by the State Department and $1.6 million by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which led the Bout investigation.
A squat man with blue eyes and wearing what appeared to be a diamond-encrusted ring, Carlos came across as chatty and friendly in his recorded conversations with Bout. But on the witness stand in court, he spoke in an expressionless, cold voice.
Bout's former comrade Andrew Smulian has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors with the aim of getting a lighter sentence.
He also has a checkered past as a South African military operative who was recorded boasting about "mowing down" blacks.
The trial was to resume on Monday, when cross-examination of Carlos could begin.
Bout, accused of conspiring to aid a US-designated terrorist group and intent to kill American personnel, could face life in prison if convicted.
The one-time promising Soviet officer became a legend for his alleged exploits in the murky world of black market weapons dealing.
A movie "Lord of War," starring Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage, was inspired by Bout's life, while the chief US drug enforcement agency agent who organized the sting in Thailand told CBS television that the defendant is "one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth."
The judge hearing the case asked jury members to sign a written pledge that they will not read about it on the Internet or other sources.
© 2011 AFP