NEW YORK – A prosecutor at the trial of a Russian arms dealer argued Monday that the defendant was "ready, willing and able" to sell surface-to-air missiles and other heavy weaponry to a Colombian terror group, while his lawyer claimed he only wanted to unload a pair of cargo planes.
Viktor Bout, a shadowy former Soviet military officer once known in the international arms market as the Merchant of Death, was arrested overseas in an elaborate sting in 2008 and was transferred to the United States to face federal conspiracy charges alleging he believed the weapons would be used against Americans supporting the Colombian forces fighting the rebels.
Bout told contacts posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, "We are together" and "We have the same enemy," prosecutor Anjan Sahni said in closing arguments in federal court in Manhattan.
Extensive wiretaps and testimony from government informants proved Bout "was ready, willing and able to carry out the massive weapons scheme," Sahni said.
Bout has pleaded not guilty and has insisted he is a legitimate businessman with a history of mainly transporting standard air cargo, including arms. His attorney, Albert Dayan, argued Monday that U.S. authorities framed his client by building their case on negotiations at meetings in Bangkok that were open to interpretation and never resulted in the exchange of any arms or money.
"You have Viktor Bout getting on an airplane, but what did he do?" Dayan said. "They don't have anything. All they have is speculation, innuendo and conjecture."
The case began when Bout, while under United Nations travel restrictions, was approached in Moscow by a close associate about supplying weapons to FARC. Bout was told that the group wanted to use drug-trafficking proceeds to pay for missiles and other weapons, making it clear it wanted to attack helicopter pilots and other Americans in Colombia, prosecutors said.
The associate, South African businessman Andrew Smulian, took the witness stand for the government as part of a plea deal and testified that Bout agreed that for a down payment of $20 million he would arrange for cargo planes to air-drop 100 tons of weapons into Colombia. The phony deal was finalized at the Bangkok meeting between Bout and two Drug Enforcement Administration informants who prosecutors said tricked Bout into believing they were FARC operatives.
The defense claims Bout spoke about supplying arms as a ruse to get the Colombians to pay him $5 million for the cargo planes.
Bout, 44, was charged with conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles and aid a terrorist organization. He could face life imprisonment if convicted.
Deliberations were expected to begin on Tuesday.