Viktor Bout, an accused Russian arms dealer who allegedly helped fuel wars in Africa and elsewhere, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges Wednesday in federal court in New York.
U.S. attorney general Eric Holder calls him one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.
Bout was arrested two years ago in Thailand and was flown to the United States on Tuesday.
“It’s good to see that justice has been done,” says David Crane, the former chief prosecutor for the Special Court on Sierra Leone. Crane, now a Syracuse University law professor, signed the war crimes indictment against former Liberian president Charles Taylor, one of Bout’s alleged customers.
Crane says Bout was “very much complicit (in the Sierra Leone conflict) and was…one of the individuals providing small arms that he got in return from…Charles Taylor…Foday Sankoh and others from the Revolutionary Front to arm the rebels in Sierra Leone.”
Bout is a former Russian army officer and when the Soviet Union fell, Crane says, he took advantage of the weapons that were still available and began to sell them to “gun runners, diamond dealers, thugs, boy generals and recalcitrant heads of state. He’s an embarrassment to Russia,” says Crane. “But this has caused some diplomatic problems over the past couple of weeks and Russia has come forward and has really vocally said that he should be set free.”
The Special Court on Sierra Leone, Crane said, “actually paid very close attention to the arms dealers because again, in the West African joint criminal enterprise [Bout] was very much one of the suppliers of weapons that (were) used in the civil war and was very much a player in the background of moving diamonds, guns and diamonds about that part of the world.”
Crane says during that time Bout also had had extensive activities in South Africa, East Africa and well into the Middle East.
“So there are other players, but certainly he was a major player and continued to be until he was arrested by Thai authorities a couple of years ago.”
Crane says among other charges, Bout “has been indicted for conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to terrorist organizations.” He said they deal with the killing of U.S. nationals and U.S. officers or employees. “These are very serious charges.”