'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout Arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court
By Ben Fractenberg
Bout, who prosecutors said has been an arms dealer for two decades, providing weapons to terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda, was finally nabbed through an international Drug Enforcement Administration operation.
DEA Agents posed as members of the Columbian revolutionary and drug running organization FARC recorded Bout on tape agreeing to provide arms to the group, which then would be used to kill Americans.
“The FARC is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Columbians,” said DEA Chief of Operations, Special Agent Thomas M. Harrigan at a Wednesday press conference. “He was an accessory to violence that’s beyond comprehension.”
Bout was held in Thailand for two years before being extradited to the U.S. He has been able to avoid arrest for years, due in part to the complexities of international law and extradition policies.
The operation that finally nabbed Bout originally started as a drug investigation, though the DEA would not specify whether it was Bout or FARC who was originally being investigated.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Bout was “ready, willing and able” to provide arms to FARC. The cache of military grade weapons included surface-to-air- missiles, helicopters and armor-piercing rocket launchers, according to court papers.
“It was an arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” said Bharara.
Bout is scheduled to be arraigned in Manhattan federal court Wednesday afternoon where he faces a maximum charge of life in prison.