Reputed Russian Arms Dealer Kept in Prison
MANHATTAN (CN) - The 2nd Circuit defended the elaborate international sting operation that brought Russian national Viktor Bout down for trying to arm phony Colombian guerrillas.
Bout has been depicted in nonfiction as the "Merchant of Death" and in Hollywood as the "Lord of War" because of his reputation for arming dictators, despots and warring factions in the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and other conflict zones around the world.
Sanctioned by the United Nations, Bout remained free for more than a decade until the U.S. agents snared him under "Operation Relentless," in which undercover informants posed as guerrillas with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which the U.S. classifies as a terrorist group.
Thai authorities arrested Bout on March 6, 2008, after he shook hands on a deal to deliver the phony FARC guerrillas surface-to-air missiles, tons of explosives, guns, ammunition, mines and weapon-ready airplanes.
Bout immediately raised objections about the sting because his home country does not allow does not prohibit business with the FARC, a self-described Marxist-Leninst group tied to ransom kidnappings, drug-running and political violence.
The United States nevertheless won Bout's extradition to Manhattan, where a unanimous federal jury convicted him on four terrorism-related charges. The most serious count, conspiracy to sell missiles, carried a 25-year minimum.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin imposed the minimum sentence, citing her reservations about the sting. "This country does not purport to be the Supreme Court of the entire world," she said at Bout's sentencing in April 2012.
She refused to drop the charges, however, finding them consistent with U.S. law.
On Friday, the 2nd Circuit defended the methods that led to Bout's capture.
"The government's motivation to prosecute Bout stemmed from widespread concern that he was engaged in criminal conduct, as evidenced by his placement on numerous United States and United Nations 'sanctions lists' since the early 2000s," Judge Jose Cabranes wrote for a three-judge panel. "The government's enthusiastic or energetic pursuit of Bout, a high-priority criminal target, does not demonstrate vindictive, or even inappropriate, government conduct."