US finds Russian arms trafficker Bout guilty

2nd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A federal jury in New York Wednesday found Viktor Bout, a Russian alleged to have been one of the world's biggest black market arms dealers, guilty of all charges.

Bout, 44, who was extradited from Thailand to the United States in 2010, was charged on four counts of conspiring to sell missiles to terrorists and to kill American service personnel. He now faces a minimum of 25 years in jail and possibly up to life in prison.

The case revolves around a sophisticated US sting operation to corner Bout, a veteran of a shady international air freight business that specialized in African conflict zones.

US agents posing as high-ranking members of Colombia's FARC guerrilla group, which is listed by Washington as a terrorist organization, told Bout at a 2008 meeting in Bangkok that they wanted to buy a huge arsenal.

Among the weapons requested were anti-aircraft missiles that they said would be used to shoot down American pilots helping the Colombian military.

In secretly taped conversations, Bout said he could supply the weapons. However, his lawyer said in court he was playing a charade in order to further his real goal, which was simply to sell two cargo planes.

The mustachioed Russian, dubbed by critics the "merchant of death," is alleged to have been the world's biggest black market arms dealer in the post-Cold War period. However, he says he worked exclusively as a private air transporter -- sometimes carrying legal shipments of arms -- and was living openly in Moscow.

He was arrested at the scene of the 2008 meeting with the US agents, then extradited from Thailand to the United States in 2010 after a bitter legal battle.

© 2011 AFP

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