A former Russian Air Force pilot has been found guilty by a federal jury of attempting to sell weapons to men he believed were members of the FARC. Viktor Bout, 44, an international arms dealer, now faces life in prison.
In a 2008 sting operation in Thailand, Bout is on record selling millions of dollars worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, armor-piercing rocket launchers, AK-47 rifles, landmines, and forged documents. He said he could provide 100 tons of weapons for as many as 12,000 FARC fighters. He also said he could airdrop the weapons and train insurgents in how to use them.
“He did everything he could to show that he could be a one-stop shop” for the FARC, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire.
Bout understood the arms were to be used to kill American pilots stationed in Colombia. He told D.E.A. informants during their meeting in a Sofitel hotel in Bangkok, “We are together; we have the same enemy. It’s not business. It’s my fight. I’m fighting the U.S. for 15 years now.”
In 2008, Bout’s former associate, Andrew Smulian, pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell arms with Bout. He has cooperated with prosecutors for three and a half years.
Bout is believed to have fueled bloody conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Kathi Austin, a former arms investigator for the U.N., said, “Viktor Bout initiated wars in parts of West Africa by basically going to leaders of rebel groups or governments and promising massive weapons supply for them to carry out war, in exchange for natural resources such as diamonds and timber.”
The 2005 movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage, was inspired by his life. He has been dubbed “the Merchant of Death.”