US prosecutor wraps up arms case against Bout

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A US prosecutor wrapped up the case against Russia's Viktor Bout on Monday, telling a New York jury that the man dubbed the "merchant of death" should be found guilty.

Assistant US Attorney Anjan Sahni ridiculed defense arguments that Bout, a veteran of the shady air transportation business, was only trying to sell two airplanes, not a vast arsenal of weapons to US agents posing as Colombian guerrillas.

"The defendant repeatedly said he was ready, willing and able to carry out this massive weapons deal," Sahni said in a courtroom packed with journalists and federal agents witnessing the climax of the dramatic trial.

The defense argument, Sahni said, "makes absolutely no sense."

The prosecutor then highlighted hours of wiretapped phone conversations and streams of intercepted emails and SMS messages that he said clearly showed Bout planned the sale of surface-to-air missiles, small arms, mines and other weaponry to Colombia's FARC guerrillas.

Bout, 44, is charged with conspiring to sell missiles to a US-designated terrorist organization and to kill American service personnel who work as pilots alongside the Colombian military. He faces life in prison if convicted on all charges.

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 and was living openly in Moscow.

Sahni said the US sting operation, culminating with Bout being lured to Thailand for a 2008 meeting with fake FARC representatives to discuss the arms deal, demonstrated "he was never in it just for the planes."

Sahni pointed to secret tape recordings of the meeting in which Bout appears to negotiate over staggering quantities of weaponry, not just the two planes which he says he also wanted to sell.

"Here are enormous quantities of weapons, enough for an army," Sahni said. "Bout knows what it takes to arm a conflict and he's ready to do it now for FARC."

Bout sat grim faced in court alongside his lawyers. His wife and teenage daughter sat behind him in the packed audience.

His defense lawyer was due to make his summation later Monday before the jury began deliberations in the case which has sparked outrage in Russia.

© 2011 AFP

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