NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. jury found former Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout guilty on Wednesday on charges he agreed to sell arms to people he thought were Colombian militants intent on attacking American soldiers.
Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who was the subject of the book “Merchant of Death,” was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation and extradited to New York in 2010 to face terrorism-related charges.
The jury deliberated for about a day before delivering its verdict in a Manhattan federal court.
Bout, in his mid-forties, was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and officers of the United States and one count each of conspiracy to sell anti-aircraft missiles and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He faces 25 years to life in prison.
“It was a tough case,” Bout attorney Kenneth Kaplan told reporters. “We gave it a good fight. The fight is not over. He has various legal options.”
Kaplan said Bout would appeal the conviction after sentencing, which is scheduled for February 8.
U.S. informants posed as arms buyers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, and met with Bout in Thailand to buy an arsenal of military weaponry, which prosecutors said he agreed to provide.
Two DEA informants who posed as FARC leaders testified for the prosecution at Bout’s trial. A former Bout business associate, Andrew Smulian, also testified for the government after pleading guilty to participating in the FARC deal.
Bout was charged only in connection with the suspected arms deal, but U.S. authorities have said he has been involved in trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Prosecutors said the informants told Bout the weapons would be used to attack U.S. pilots assisting the Colombian government. At a meeting in Bangkok, Bout responded “We have the same enemy.”
Washington classifies the FARC, a Marxist-inspired guerrilla army, as a terrorist organization and says it is deeply involved in the cocaine trade.
Defense attorney Albert Dayan told jurors in his closing argument on Monday that the government’s case was “pure speculation” and that Bout had never intended to sell any weapons.
Dayan told jurors that Bout had dangled false promises of delivering 100 advanced portable surface-to-air missiles and approximately 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles only in order to con the alleged FARC representatives into buying two of his old cargo planes.