Russian Arms Smuggler Faces Jury

Xiaodon Liang

More than three years after his arrest, the trial of suspected arms trafficker Viktor Bout began Oct. 11 at a U.S. federal court in New York.

The Russian national pleaded not guilty last November to conspiracy charges stemming from his March 2008 arrest in Bangkok in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation conducted in partnership with Thai authorities. (See ACT, April 2008.) Prosecutors say he conspired to supply undercover agents with anti-aircraft missiles, to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, and to kill U.S. nationals and officials.

If convicted, Bout could be sentenced to life imprisonment. He was extradited from Thailand in November in spite of Russian objections. (See ACT, December 2010.)

According to a criminal complaint filed by the DEA in 2008, from November 2007 to February 2008, Bout was engaged in negotiations with DEA agents posing as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Colombian rebel group designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization. According to a subsequent indictment, Bout agreed to provide surface-to-air missiles, assault rifles, rocket launchers, explosives, ammunition, and landmines to the bogus FARC members.

Bout has long been suspected by U.S. officials of supplying arms to state and nonstate clients in Afghanistan, Colombia, Sudan, and West Africa. The New York Times reported Aug. 17 that Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who is presiding over the trial, will allow only limited evidence of Bout’s prior activities to be presented in court, so as not to prejudice the jury. For example, prosecutors will be allowed to inform the jury that Bout has been subject to UN sanctions, but are barred from explaining in detail the connection between the sanctions and the repeated violations of arms embargoes documented by the United Nations.

Bout’s lawyer, Albert Dayan, claims that his client traveled to Bangkok with an interest in selling two cargo planes, not arms, Voice of America reported Oct 14.