New Film Won’t Spring Russian Arms Trafficker

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Last year’s documentary “The Notorious Mr. Bout” did not give a Russian arms trafficker ammunition to disturb a 25-year sentence for attempting to arm Colombian guerrillas, a federal judge ruled.
     Viktor Bout’s long record of arming dictators, despots and warring factions in the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and other volatile conflict zones earned him sanctions by the United Nations.
     Before his capture, Bout inspired the nonfiction book “Merchant of Death” and the Hollywood blockbuster “Lord of War.”
     The harsh spotlight did not stop Bout from plying his trade for more than a decade, until the U.S. agents snared him under “Operation Relentless.”
     The investigation had undercover informants posing as guerrillas with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which the U.S. classifies as a terrorist group.
     Thai authorities arrested Bout once he and the agents shook hands on a deal in a Bangkok hotel on March 6, 2008.
     Eventually extradited to the United States, Bout faced a federal jury that convicted him of conspiring to provide the FARC guerrillas with weapons of mass destruction – including surface-to-air missiles, tons of explosives, guns, ammunition, mines and weapon-ready airplanes – and other charges.
     While the top charge carried a potential life sentence, Judge Shira Scheindlin granted leniency in light of the fact the purported guerrillas only existed in the investigators’ imagination.
     She nevertheless found the sting lawful, and sentenced Bout to 25 years in prison in 2012.
     Two years later, Bout’s tale graced the silver screen again with a documentary that debuted at Sundance on Jan. 17, 2014, reflecting on his notoriety and downfall.
     Filmmakers Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin captured interviews with Drug Enforcement Administration agent William Brown, who referred to Bout’s co-conspirator Andrew Smulian as a “willing partner.”
     Bout’s lawyers cast this statement as an admission that Smulian lied under oath about when he started working for the government.
     Rejecting the argument on Monday, Scheindlin said that Bout had been pulling the quote out of context.
     “Agent Brown’s statements clearly relate to the government’s motivation in approaching Smulian in the sting operation – namely that Smulian, due to Bout and Smulian’s past business dealings and Smulian’s poor financial situation, presented a ‘willing partner’ for Bout and a ‘penetration point’ for the government to reach Bout,” her 29-page opinion says.
     Scheindlin also was no timpressed with Bout’s lawyers’ claims that two other pieces of exculpatory evidence made their client deserve a new trial.
     The Second Circuit affirmed Bout’s sentence two years ago.

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