NEW YORK – A Russian labeled the "Merchant of Death" by those who claim he fueled some of the world's deadly Third World conflicts over the last decade with powerful weapons is in U.S. custody where he belongs, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
"The so-called Merchant of Death is now a federal inmate," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said of Viktor Bout, who was flown from Thailand to a suburban New York airport on Tuesday. "No one is beyond the reach of the law."
Bout, 43, a former Soviet military officer and air cargo executive, faces charges he supported terrorists trying to overthrow the government of Colombia and shared their hatred for Americans. He awaited an appearance in Manhattan federal court later Wednesday.
"No one should ever think he can plot to kill with impunity," Bharara said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called Bout "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers."
The United Nations has accused Bout of being responsible since at least 2000 for playing a critical role in arming a number of international conflicts in areas where the weapons trade has been embargoed by the United Nations.
He was flown from Bangkok, Thailand, to suburban New York on a chartered U.S. plane just four days before an extradition order would have expired, permitting him to be freed and returned home to his native Moscow.
Instead, he was taken in manacles and a bulletproof vest as Russian diplomats made a final outraged push to persuade Thailand to release him, according to current and former U.S. officials.
For several months, U.S. and Russian officials had battled for control of Bout, flexing muscles in a manner that seemed to threaten cooperation on arms control, nuclear weapons curbs and the war in Afghanistan.
Bharara refused to address complaints by Russia at a news conference Wednesday, saying his office merely pursued an indictment and an extradition consistent with U.S. law.