A federal jury in New York City has begun deliberating in the case against alleged Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, accused of conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian rebels. Bout faces a sentence of 25 years to life if convicted. From New York, our correspondent has more on the closing arguments against the former Soviet air force officer who is reported to have earned billions in the trade.
Russian businessman Viktor Bout - arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. last year - is charged with conspiring to supply arms to U.S. agents posing as Colombian FARC rebels. He allegedly believed the buyers would use the weapons to kill American pilots stationed in Colombia.
Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Albert Dayan spoke to reporters:
“All the information we wanted the jury to know, I believe we have delivered with success, and the rest is in their hands," said Dayan. "It’s time now for them to deliberate, and hopefully now they will reach the right and just verdict.”
In closing arguments, federal prosecutors argued that secretly recorded phone calls, messages and meetings all showed that Bout was eager to earn millions of dollars selling weapons to FARC, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. The prosecutors said Bout offered air-drops of more weapons than the fake rebels had asked for - including surface-to-air missiles and explosives. And he allegedly offered additional help, such as training and forged documents.
Prosecutors also referred to evidence that Bout had long traded arms in African countries, leading to a 2004 U.N. resolution asking members to refuse him transit, and to freeze Bout’s reported $6 billion in assets. Kathi Austin is a former arms investigator for the U.N.
“Viktor Bout initiated wars in parts of West Africa by basically going to leaders of rebel groups or governments and promising massive weapons supply for them to carry out war, in exchange for natural resources such as diamonds and timber," said Austin.
Although Viktor Bout is not on trial for his dealings in Africa, defense attorney Dayan said in his closing arguments that Bout had never been a weapons seller there - only a cargo transporter. He told the jury that Bout never even believed the undercover informants were genuine FARC members. He said that Bout’s offer to supply them with weapons was only a ploy to get them to buy two air-cargo planes from his former business. And Dayan said that if Bout’s testimony at a Thai extradition hearing was incomplete, it was because Bout was ashamed to admit he was, quote, “broke and a con man.”