Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Wednesday pleaded not guilty at the U.S. federal courthouse in New York City to charges that include an attempt to supply weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, terrorist group for use in killing Americans.
At Bout's arraignment, defense attorney Sabrina Shroff entered a not guilty plea on behalf of her client.
Earlier, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara presented a 19-page indictment that alleges Bout assembled a fleet of cargo planes capable of transporting weapons to Africa, South America and the Middle East. Bharara said Bout's alleged partner, Andrew Smulian, pleaded guilty to similar charges, naming Bout as a co-conspirator.
"Bout and Smulian stood to collect millions of dollars on the FARC arms deal, and they both allegedly jumped at the chance to arm the FARC for its terrorist fight against the United States," said Bharara.
Bout arrived in New York on a private jet late Tuesday after being extradited from Thailand. He was arrested there in March 2008 in a sting operation led by U.S. agents. He had evaded U.S. and U.N sanctions for years and was the inspiration for the Hollywood movie, Lord of War. Bout says he is an honest businessman.
Russia waged an unsuccessful legal battle with the United States to gain Bout's release from Thailand. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that the arms dealer has not been found guilty of a crime.
Lavrov said he considers Bout's extradition a display of unprecedented political pressure on court procedure and on the government of Thailand by the United States. He called the case an "outrageous injustice," adding that Russia will continue to provide Bout all of the necessary assistance available to a Russian citizen.
U.S. Prosecutor Preet Bharara declined to comment on Russia's position. But he said the U.S. Attorney's office will continue to protect American interests wherever they are threatened.
"No one is beyond the reach of the law," he said. "No one should doubt the international commitment to justice, and no one should ever think he can plot to kill Americans with impunity."