Two former associates of Russian businessman and alleged international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was extradited to the U.S. from Thailand in 2010, are testifying for the prosecution at his federal trial. They followed a confidential informant who posed as an arms buyer for a group the U.S. designates as terrorist.
Bout, a former Soviet Air Force officer, is accused of conspiring to sell thousands of military-grade weapons, including surface-to-air-missiles, that he believed would be used to kill American pilots in Colombia.
At Bout’s trial in New York, Andrew Smulian, a former friend and business partner, testified that Bout was eager to participate in a multi-million-dollar deal with confidential U.S. informants posing as Colombian rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, a group listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
Earlier, Carlos Sagastume, one of the confidential informants, testified that Bout seemed “excited” as he talked about a video showing FARC rebels with pipe bombs. In a tape of the secretly recorded meeting in Bangkok played for the jury, Bout is heard exclaiming, “Genius, genius, genius!” Bout’s voice is also heard stating that he had been fighting the U.S. for “10 to 15 years.” "It's not business, it's my fight,” he said.
Bout's weapons dealing, which arms investigators say inflamed conflicts in Africa in the 1990s, led to a U.N. resolution in 2004 asking member-nations to refuse Bout transit and to freeze a reported $6 billion in assets.
Taimur Rabbani, a legal fellow with Human Rights First, is monitoring the trial. He says Viktor Bout is only one of many “enablers” of mass atrocities.
“Viktor Bout only represents the tip of the iceberg," said Rabbani. "There’s others out there. And we need a coordinated approach, we need to strengthen the ability for U.S. intelligence to target not only the perpetrators of mass atrocities, but also the enablers of mass atrocities, people that significantly worsen existing crises by shipping weapons, allowing funds to flow into places facing sanctions.”
Bout and Andrew Smulian were arrested together in Thailand in 2008 as they met with the fake Colombian rebels. Smulian said he chose to plead guilty and to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors in the hope of being spared life in prison.
Defense attorney Albert Dayan attacked the credibility of both Smulian and Sagastume, suggesting they had major incentives to testify against Bout - a likely lesser prison term for Smulian, and for Sagastume, $200,000 in payments so far. The jury also heard that Sagastume was paid $7 million for his work for the U.S. in an earlier case.
The final witnesses include a former pilot for Bout’s African operations, James Roberts. He testified that during a week-long assignment in East Africa in 1998, he saw ongoing loading of military-grade weapons onto a fleet of Bout’s cargo planes.
Bout faces life in prison if convicted. His lawyer contends that Bout was never a weapons dealer, only a transporter, and gave up his international air-cargo businesses after sanctions confined him largely to Russia.