Testimony Heats Up in Viktor Bout Trial
MANHATTAN (CN) - Suspected international arms smuggler Viktor Bout sketched a good rendition of a rocket-propelled grenade in his notes of a meeting with undercover agents posing as Columbian guerrillas, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent testified at Bout's trial Monday.
Attorneys for Bout, a Russian national, hope to persuade the jury that he did not sell arms, but was merely in the air transportation business.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire scoffed at that suggestion during witness testimony, projecting Bout's artwork in front of a jury. His witness, DEA Agent William Brown, said that the doodle was the spitting image of an RPG.
Trial began last Wednesday for Bout, the reputed inspiration for the Hollywood movie "Lord of War," and the subject of investigative journalist Douglas Farah's book, "Merchant of Death."
Bout had been sanctioned by the United Nations and the U.S. government for allegedly arming dictators, guerrillas and violent groups around the globe for at least a decade, but was not criminally indicted in the United States until 2008.
Brown, the first witness against him, oversaw the investigation that snared Bout on terrorism charges. The DEA agent testified for nearly two days about the sting operation he helped engineer.
He said he tapped three confidential informants to buy weapons from Bout - Mike Snow, "Carlos," and "Ricardo" - while posing as members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which the United States calls a foreign terrorist organization.
The three sources, all of whom received six-figure or higher payments for working for the DEA, met with Bout's former friend Andrew Smulian, who pleaded guilty to similar charges, on the South American island of Curacao in late 2007.
At that taped meeting, Carlos almost blew his cover by telling Smulian they could not meet in Cuba because, he said, FARC members get watched in Communist countries.
Bout's lawyer Albert Dayan doubted that Cuba would reject a self-identified Marxist-Leninist revolutionary group.
"Do FARC members usually have a hard time going to a Communist country?" Dayan asked.
"I don't know," Brown replied.
Smulian, nevertheless, agreed with the undercover DEA agents' plan to acquire weapons for the FARC, but said it may be difficult to get the weapons through Bout.
In series of emails, Smulian told Snow that the United Nations made the Russian citizen a "persona non G," calling upon member nations to freeze his assets and restrict his travel, evidence showed.
Smulian also wrote that Bout stopped selling "grey items" because he "had been told to withdraw all activities out of the motherland."
Brown confirmed that "grey items" meant weapons and military equipment, but added that the email did not prove that Bout actually withdrew from the arms trade.
"There's always banter back and forth between bad guys that do bad things," Brown said.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Dayan said the Smulian emails mostly showed that Bout hoped to sell Russian cargo planes known as Antonov 12s, for $5 million.
On March 6, 2008, Bout met Smulian and the undercover DEA operatives in Bangkok, to complete the sale.
At the meeting, the agents agreed to pay $5 million for the planes, but Bout agreed to look into getting specifications for thousands of weapons for FARC militants.
Prosecutors displayed Bout's notes from that meeting, including his drawing of the RPG, the acronym "UAV" for "unmanned aerial vehicle," and the quantities of weapons that his purported clients would need.
Brown testified that Bout came up with the numbers himself, including up to 800 anti-aircraft missiles, 20,000 high-powered rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition.
Thai authorities arrested Bout immediately after the sting, and after a legal battle he was extradited to America.
Dayan, a Queens-based attorney with a thick New York accent, led an aggressive, combative and sometimes scattered cross-examination.
At one point, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin had to remind him, "It's not a fight. It's a question and answer."
She also warned him not to make speeches, and instructed the jury not to treat his remarks as evidence.
When Dayan accused Brown of putting the confidential sources up to deceptive techniques, Scheindlin interrupted, "I think the phrase 'put him up' is infelicitous."
Witness testimony continues today (Tuesday).