Prosecutor: Evidence shows Viktor Bout thought he was working with FARC
Bout's defense is offering closing arguments later Monday
If convicted, the alleged arms dealer faces life in prison
Alleged Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout was “ready, willing and able” to make a deal to acquire weapons for Colombian rebels, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday in closing arguments of Bout’s trial.
But the deal was actually a March 2008 sting operation conducted in Thailand by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Agents posed as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and attempted to buy weapons including surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s and landmines from Bout, according to the indictment against him.
The Russian businessman, widely dubbed the “merchant of death” by his accusers, is charged with a wide range of counts, including conspiracy to kill Americans, attempting to sell arms to undercover federal agents, wire fraud and violating U.N. Security Council sanctions. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Bout, who inspired the 2005 movie “Lord of War,” has pleaded not guilty. Defense attorney Albert Dayan has said Bout was not involved in illegal arms sales, and told jurors that federal agents baited the suspect into selling the weapons alongside a deal to sell airplanes.
But Anjan Sahni, assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors Monday, “Bout saw an opportunity to make a considerable amount of money.”
Bout’s associate, Andrew Smulian, 70, a former South African intelligence officer and shipping magnate, testified against him last week.
Smulian was also arrested in Bangkok along with Bout and his testimony was an attempt to reduce the charges against him. On the stand, he explained the often-coded messages the two exchanged.
“The evidence proves that Bout and Smulian believed they were working with the FARC,” said Sahni, who spent much of his two-hour closing argument disputing the idea what Bout was leading the purported rebels on with the false deal in order to sell them only planes.
“You speak in code if you’re discussing an arms deal, not planes,” Sahni said. “He fully immersed himself in this weapons deal.”
Bout, he said, was “ready, willing and able to acquire at least 100 IGLA (surface-to-air) missiles from Bulgaria.”
If Bout was no longer in the weapons business, he said, he could have simply told Smulian that.
Bout’s defense was to offer its closing arguments following a lunch break.