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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Viktor Bout is In US Custody

By Samuel Rubenfeld

Viktor Bout, the alleged Russian arms dealer whose reported escapades inspired the film “Lord of War,” pleaded not guilty in a New York court to charges that he agreed to supply Colombian terrorists with weapons with the intent to kill Americans.

The plea came only hours after Bout was extradited from Thailand, after two years of legal wrangling. Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, arrived Tuesday night at Westchester County Airport in New York.

Bout runs an air-cargo business that he has said specializes in bringing legitimate cargo into conflict zones, but U.S. authorities labeled him as the world’s most notorious arms dealer for using his business to fly weapons across the world.

Suspected clients include Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi; Bout’s life was the subject of a bestselling book.

“The so-called ‘Merchant of Death’ is now a federal inmate,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara at a press conference, referring to a nickname Bout received for his activity over the years. “No one is beyond the reach of the law.”

At the press conference, Bharara said Bout was secretly recorded advocating that his weapons be used to kill Americans and that he supported FARC’s goals.

He was added to the specially designated nationals list at the Office of Foreign Assets Control in July 2004 for weapons trafficking activity in Liberia, and the indictment says 30 more companies and four individuals linked to him were added in April 2005.

According to the indictment, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents, working undercover with confidential sources posing as agents of the Colombian rebel group FARC, convinced Bout to sell them weapons including 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 firearms, unmanned drones and land mines, for the purpose of killing Americans. The conspiracy with the agents lasted from November 2007 through March 2008, when he was arrested at a hotel in Bangkok.

He was charged with conspiring to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill American officers and employees, conspiring to use and acquire anti-aircraft missiles, and conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted on all four counts, Bout faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, or a minimum of 25 years in prison.

His extradition from Thailand was fought to the end by the Russian government, and it could imperil U.S.-Russian relations. The Russian Foreign Minister called the extradition an “extreme injustice,” saying his government will defend him “by any means.”

Also at the press conference, Bharara announced the guilty plea of Andrew Smulian, who faced the same four counts as Bout’s associate. He agreed to cooperate with the investigation, and faces a maximum of life in prison, or a minimum of 25 years.

“Viktor Bout has been indicted in the United States, but his alleged arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts in Africa has been a cause of concern around the world. His extradition is a victory for the rule of law worldwide,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement.

Read the indictment below:

Indictment document

The Rest @ the Wall Street Journal

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