NEW YORK (Reuters) - Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer caught in an undercover sting by U.S. agents posing as Colombian guerrillas seeking weapons, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday by a U.S. judge in New York.
Bout, who was the subject of a book titled “Merchant of Death,” was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 after a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation and extradited to New York in November 2010 to face trial.
He was convicted by a Manhattan federal court jury last fall after a three-week trial on charges he agreed to sell arms to people he thought were Colombian militants intent on attacking American soldiers.
His attorneys have said they would appeal the trial conviction, pursuing their tooth and nail fight with the government in a case they characterize as a persecution by the United States of an innocent man. Bout’s legal team had even asked Judge Shira Scheindlin not to impose a sentence at all.
During the trial, jurors heard details about the international sting operation that eventually resulted in Bout’s prosecution.
U.S. informants posed as arms buyers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, and met with Bout in Thailand to buy an arsenal of military weaponry, which prosecutors said he agreed to provide.
Two DEA informants who posed as FARC leaders testified for the prosecution at Bout’s trial. A former Bout business associate, Andrew Smulian, also testified for the government after pleading guilty to participating in the FARC deal.
According to prosecutors, in a meeting at a Bangkok hotel with the supposed FARC representatives, Bout agreed to sell the 100 advanced man-portable surface-to-air missiles or the approximately 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles that were discussed.
Bout was charged only in connection with the suspected arms deal, but U.S. authorities have said he has been involved in trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Prosecutors said the informants told Bout the weapons would be used to attack U.S. pilots assisting the Colombian government. At the meeting in Bangkok, Bout responded, “We have the same enemy.”
Washington classifies the FARC, a Marxist-inspired guerrilla army, as a terrorist organization and says it is deeply involved in the cocaine trade.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; writing by Paul Thomasch; editing by Dan Burns and Cynthia Osterman