Jury deliberation begins in case of accused Russian arms dealer


Illustration courtesy of Christine Cornell

Sketch by Christine Carroll of Viktor Bout. He’s known as the “Merchant of Death” and the “Lord of War,” — an alleged international arms dealer straight out of a cloak-and-dagger spy novel who eluded authorities for years and inspired Hollywood villains.

CNN Wire Service

Jurors are scheduled to begin deciding the fate of alleged Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout Tuesday as the high-profile trial nears an end.

Bout 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.

Closing arguments in the case took place on Monday.

Bout, widely dubbed the “merchant of death,” 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.

The heart of the charges against Bout stem from a 2008 sting operation in Thailand by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. According to a 2008 federal indictment, undercover agents posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, attempted to buy larges caches of weapons from Bout.

Agents tried to buy 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, thousands of AK-47s, and landmines, according to the indictment. They told Bout that they wanted the arms “to kill Americans,” to which Bout said that he “was going to prepare everything the FARC needed.”

Before the arrest, the DEA had struggled to draw Bout out of his Russian homeland, which had long sheltered and defended him. Undercover agents met with Bout’s associates the world over, from Curacao to Copenhagen, in an attempt to set up a meeting with their target, according to the indictment.

Critics accuse Bout of providing larger and more-powerful arms to rebels in several countries and fueling bloody conflicts in places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The 2005 movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicholas Cage, was inspired by Bout’s life.