Trial of ‘Lord of War’ weapons smuggler underway in New York

Viktor Bout
Viktor Bout

He is considered the world’s most notorious weapons smuggler; dubbed ‘the merchant of death’, his life’s story inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War. But his trial, which is currently underway in New York, has so far gone largely unnoticed by the world’s media. Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military intelligence (GRU) officer, was arrested in a sting operation in Bangkok, Thailand, in March of 2008. At the time of his arrest, he and his two collaborators were negotiating a complex weapons deal with two individuals who said they were representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s largest leftist paramilitary group. However, the interested buyers turned out to be informants of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which was employing them as part of a sophisticated sting operation. Bout was arrested by the Thai Royal Police and was imprisoned in Bangkok, before being extradited to the United States last year. He is now being tried in Manhattan for attempting to supply arms to the FARC, including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and even two airplanes. Earlier this week, the jury heard excerpts from recorded conversations between Bout, his accomplices, and the DEA informants, in which the Russian weapons merchant is heard saying that he and the FARC “have the same enemy” —namely the Americans. Bout voiced this comment in response to a DEA informant’s exclamation that the FARC wanted to use the weapons supplied by Bout “to knock down those American sons of bitches”. The deal was never completed, as it was interrupted by Thai police officers, who stormed into the hotel room and captured a stunned Bout. In another sequence in the recordings, Bout is heard saying that he plans to convince the defense minister of an unidentified country to facilitate the transfer of weapons to the FARC by providing him with official documentation. In his trial testimony, Guatemalan-born DEA informant Carlos Sagastume, who was present in the Bangkok hotel room where Bout was arrested, told the jury that he believed Bout was referring to Russia. As intelNews has reported before, Bout appears to be under Russian protection; last March, Moscow allegedly considered swapping Bout with Andrei Klychev, who worked at Rosatom Russia’s Nuclear Energy State Corporation until was arrested last year on charges of spying for the CIA. The effort, however, never materialized, and Bout remains in US custody. If convicted, the ‘merchant of death’ could face up to life imprisonment.

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