“Merchant of Death” Indicted in U.S. Federal Court

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It was just over two months ago that Viktor Bout, the elusive Russian arms trafficker, was jailed in Thailand after being felled by a months-long DEA sting operation. He remains in a Bangkok prison, pending extradition to the United States, where (short of a plea agreement) he will most likely face federal prosecution in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia and Acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart unsealed the federal indictment (.pdf) against Bout, charging him with four counts of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.

An excerpt from the press release announcing the indictment:

Between November 2007 and March 2008, Bout agreed to sell to the FARC millions of dollars’ worth of weapons—including surface-to-air missile systems (“SAMs”), armor piercing rocket launchers, AK-47 firearms, millions of rounds of ammunition, Russian spare parts for rifles, anti-personnel land mines, C-4 plastic explosives, night-vision equipment, “ultralight” airplanes that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Bout agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the “CSs”), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC, with specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack United States helicopters in Colombia…

As described in the Indictment, during a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6, 2008, Bout stated to the CSs that he could arrange to airdrop the arms to the FARC in Colombia, and offered to sell two cargo planes to the FARC that could be used for arms deliveries. Bout also provided a map of South America, and asked the CSs to show him American radar locations in Colombia. Bout said that he understood that the CSs wanted the arms for use against American personnel in Colombia, and advised that the United States was also his enemy, stating that the FARC’s fight against the United States was also his fight. During the meeting, Bout also offered to provide people to train the FARC in the use of the arms.

The charges against Bout include: conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals; conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees; conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles; and conspiracy to provide material support or resources for a designated foreign terrorist group. If convicted, Bout could face life in prison for each of the first three counts and a maximum of 15 years for the fourth.

Of course, trying Bout in a U.S. court could prove embarrassing in light of the fact that the Pentagon unwittingly contracted with Bout-controlled firms to ferry troops and supplies into Iraq after the 2003 invasion—at a time when he was already being sought by federal authorities for his role in breaking various UN arms embargoes in Africa.

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