International arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death,” was convicted Wednesday in federal court in New York in a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to finance a fleet of aircraft to arm bloody conflicts and support rogue regimes worldwide.
A jury reached the verdict after deliberating a full day, convicting Bout on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles and aid a terrorist organization. He faces life in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Feb. 8.
Bout was arrested in Thailand on March 6, 2008, on an Interpol “red notice,” a warrant issued for those sought for prosecution by national jurisdictions. Red notices are circulated worldwide with a view to extradition.
His arrest culminated a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation involving two undercover informants who posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a designated terrorist organization. FARC’s violent acts have included killings, kidnappings and bombings in Colombia of places frequented by Americans.
Handcuffed and wearing protective armor and a helmet, the former KGB agent was escorted to a chartered American aircraft at the Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok by 50 Thai police officers, including snipers, where he was handed over to six DEA agents for the trip to the U.S.
His court-ordered extradition angered Russian officials, who condemned the Thai government.
Bout had claimed in court documents that his March 2008 arrest by Royal Thai Police in Bangkok was illegal because a DEA agent had assisted in the apprehension. The Thai court rejected the claim.
The 44-year-old arms dealer and an associate, Richard A. Chichakli, were accused of money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy, along with charges of conspiring to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in violation of economic sanctions.
Described by U.S. intelligence officials as the world’s most powerful player in illegal arms trafficking, Bout was taken into custody by Thai police in his Bangkok hotel room - nabbed after talking with the undercover informants.
Authorities said Bout was seeking to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, and was apprehended in the final stages of making arrangements for the sale and shipment of the arms.
According to a criminal complaint, another Bout associate, Andrew Smulian, told the informants during a series of recorded meetings in Romania that Bout had 100 surface-to-air missiles available and could provide helicopters and armor-piercing rocket launchers. The complaint said Mr. Smulian spoke with Bout over a cellphone provided to him by the informants.
Bout shipped weapons and explosives to terrorist and rebel organizations worldwide, including the Taliban, and is thought to have supplied arms to Iraqi insurgents in their fight against the U.S. military through front companies and cargo airlifts.
In May 2006, when 200,000 AK-47 assault rifles turned up missing in transit from Bosnia to Iraq, one of Bout’s airlines was the carrier. The Treasury Department seized his cargo planes and froze other assets in 2006.