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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Viktor Bout Trial I

U.S. prosecutors insist that the trial of accused Russian arms broker Viktor Bout, which opened in Manhattan federal court this week, is an open-and-shut case.

During a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation in Bangkok in March 2008, the alleged arms dealer, known as the Merchant of Death, was caught on tape describing his plan to sell millions of dollars in weapons to the Colombian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to "kill American pilots."

"This is not a complicated case," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire told a federal jury on Wednesday, Oct. 12, during his opening argument, before itemizing a shopping list of weapons Bout pledged to supply to the rebels. "It's all on tape.... This man, Viktor Bout, agreed to provide all of it to a foreign terrorist organization he believed was planning to kill Americans."

Sure, it may be a slam dunk. But Bout's lawyer, Albert Dayan, provided by far the more dramatic narrative, weaving together a complex opening argument this week that seemed like it came straight out of a David Mamet play.

It's true, Dayan said, that federal informants lured his client into entering into discussions about a plan to purchase for the FARC 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 fragment grenades, 740 mortars, 350 sniper rifles, five tons of C-4 explosives, and 10 million rounds of ammunition. But he said Bout was playing his own con, luring them into purchasing two cargo planes he was trying to unload for $5 million while holding up the promise of supplying weapons that would never be delivered.

"The simple and very profound truth is that Viktor Bout never wanted, never intended, and never was going to sell arms," Dayan said, a Queens, N.Y., criminal attorney. "He played a perfect sucker to catch a sucker."

The success of Dayan's trial strategy will require jurors to imagine a world in which nobody can be trusted and everyone -- including the good guys -- is motivated by selfish interests. That's not such a tall order, given the remarkably opaque nature of the illicit arms trade, which occurs outside the reach of international laws and regulations and relies on the cooperation of a far-flung network of shady entrepreneurs willing to make a buck off the backs' of some of the world's most desperate people.

The Rest @ Foreignpolicy (US)

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