Federal judge sentences notorious arms dealer to 25 years in prison

[JURIST] The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Thursday sentenced [memorandum, PDF] reputed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to 25 years imprisonment. Bout, 45, was convicted in November [JURIST report] on four counts of conspiracy [press release] in relation to his proposed sale of anti-aircraft missiles to drug enforcement informants posing as potential buyers for the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [NYT backgrounder], which the US has labeled as a designated foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors had sought the maximum life sentence, portraying Bout as one of the world's worst criminals, a notorious arms dealer who has profited on war-torn nations since the 1990s. Judge Shira Scheindlin handed down the minimum sentence [Al Jazeera report] of 25 years in prison and ordered a $15 million forfeiture, noting that Bout would not have been convicted except for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) [official website] sting operation, and that there was no evidence that Bout would have actually committed the crimes to which he conspired. Sentencing was delayed twice [BBC report] to allow additional preparation time for defense counsel, who accused the US government of entrapment and presented Bout, an ex-Soviet officer and current Russian citizen, as a political prisoner. Russia's foreign ministry has rejected the sentence, framing the order as political and agenda-driven. Bout's attorney's have indicated their intent to appeal the conviction.

Bout's trial lasted three weeks, and he was convicted after two days of jury deliberation. Bout pleaded not guilty in November 2010, days after the Thai government extradited him [JURIST reports] to the US to stand trial. A month earlier Bout filed an appeal challenging the Bangkok Criminal Court's decision to dismiss [JURIST reports] money laundering and fraud charges against him, which removed obstacles to his US extradition. According to Bout's lawyer Lak Nitiwatanavichan, the arms dealer was seeking to have these charges reinstated [Bangkok Post report] to avoid extradition to the US. In August of that year an appeals court in Thailand ruled that Bout could be extradited [JURIST report], overturning a decision it issued a year earlier refusing to extradite Bout [JURIST report] on the basis that the accusations made by the US were not cognizable under Thai law. Bout was the subject of the book "Merchant of Death" [Reuters report], which inspired the 2005 movie of the same title, and is suspected of involvement in arms trafficking to conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

 

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