MANHATTAN (CN) – After one day of deliberations, a federal jury unanimously found international arms smuggler Viktor Bout guilty of all four counts of conspiring to sell millions of dollars in weapons to a terrorist group.
He faces a minimum of 25 years, and the possibility of life, in prison.
Jurors made no eye contact with Bout as they entered the packed courtroom. The lead juror stood to recite the verdict. The first three times, she said “guilty” to the judge. She delivered the last “guilty” directly to Bout.
Bout’s wife and daughter, who had been present throughout the trial, were not present for the recitation of the verdict. The defendant sat expressionless, then hugged his attorney Albert Dayan before exiting the courtroom, escorted by federal marshals.
A Russian national, Bout was profiled in the nonfiction book “Merchant of Death” for allegedly arming dictators, despots and warring factions in the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and other conflict zones around the world.
Though sanctioned by the United Nations, Bout remained a free man for more than a decade until the U.S. government snared him in “Operation Relentless,” a sting operation with undercover informants posing as militants 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 and the informants shook hands on a deal to deliver the phony FARC guerrillas surface-to-air missiles, guns, ammunition, explosives, mines and weapon-ready airplanes.
Over a nearly month-long trial, Bout’s voice was heard in government wiretaps, speaking lines that would not have been out of place in the Hollywood blockbuster his life is said to have inspired, “The Lord of War.”
At the meeting in which he was snared, Bout said wistfully in Spanish, “Ah, la guerra,” or “Oh, war.”
One of the informants present in that meeting said Bout also exclaimed at the elevator, “Let’s go to war.”
Another wiretap showed him gushing about a YouTube video depicting FARC guerrillas loading gas tanks with explosives.
“Uh, I saw on YouTube, uh, gas tank system. Congratulations! Genius. Genius. Genius,” Bout gushed.
Jurors took barely more than 24 hours to find him guilty on all counts.
“We’re disappointed, obviously,” defense attorney Kenneth Kaplan said, adding that Bout is “resolute.”
“He gave it a good fight,” Kaplan said.
Defense attorneys said they will continue to fight the verdict with a motion for acquittal at a hearing scheduled for Dec. 23. They also plan to appeal to the 2nd Circuit.
Defense attorney Albert Dayan read brief prepared remarks at a press conference outside the Southern District of New York. “This is definitely not the end of the process for us,” Dayan said.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara praised the jury’s “swift verdict” in a statement.
“As the evidence at trial showed, Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” Bharara said. “With today’s swift verdict, justice has been done and a very dangerous man will be behind bars.”
Human Rights First also hailed the verdict, which they hope will advance the Arms Trade Treaty to “disrupt supply chains behind widespread human rights abuses.”
“The conviction of Viktor Bout today closes a chapter on one of the most notorious enablers of mass atrocities,” the group said in a statement. “Though the verdict was limited to only four counts of conspiracy, Bout has also been linked to some of the world’s deadliest conflicts. His dealings with brutal regimes and other perpetrators have enabled widespread human rights abuses in places such as Angola, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. We are heartened by the verdict today and the knowledge that Bout’s arms trafficking will no longer contribute to the perpetration of some of humanity’s worst crimes.”