- Bout was convicted last year on four counts stemming from weapons deals
- He faces 25 years to life in prison
- His lawyer wants the conviction overturned and says the prosecution was ‘political’
(CNN) — Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout faces the possibility of life in prison at his sentencing in a federal court in New York on Thursday.
Last year Bout, who’s been dubbed “the merchant of death” by his accusers, was convicted on four counts of conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and provide material support to a terrorist organization.
At the trial, the prosecution said that during a 2008 sting operation by U.S. drug enforcement agents in Thailand, Bout believed he was selling weapons to Colombian guerrillas.
Bout, whose life is considered to have inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage movie “Lord of War,” faces 25 years to life in prison.
His lawyer, Albert Dayan, filed a letter last week asking Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who presided over the trial and will set Bout’s sentence, to set aside the guilty verdict.
Dayan urged the judge not to “become an unwilling party” in what he called a “wrongful prosecution” for “purely political reasons.” He argued that the conviction is a “product of malice” and that Bout has been an “object of private politics” coming from Washington.
The lawyer claims that Bout was picked out by the United States government and lured into a crime manufactured by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, in which the agency played “the role of judge, jury and executioner. “
In his claim, Dayan insists that Bout did not intend to sell any arms to the agents, that he has hasn’t sold any arms for several years and that the only thing he wanted to sell were two cargo airplanes, worth $5 million. He is standing by the claim that DEA officers baited his client into illegal activities.
“I do not profess, I do not argue that he’s an angel but he is innocent of these charges,” wrote Dayan. “I felt it was my duty to speak out and let the world know.”
According to the indictment, Bout was suspected of creating front companies that used his planes to deliver food and medical supplies, as well as arms.
After a sting operation in 2008 he was arrested in Thailand and in 2010 was extradited to the United States after a protracted court proceeding.
He was convicted in November after a three-week trial in New York.
Prior to his arrest, the DEA had struggled to draw Bout out of his Russian homeland, which is long thought to have sheltered and defended him.
Undercover agents met with Bout’s associates the world over, from Curacao to Copenhagen, in an attempt to set up a meeting with their target, according to the indictment.
The Russian businessman has also been accused of assembling a fleet of cargo planes to traffic military-grade weapons to conflict zones around the world since the 1990s.
Allegations of trafficking activities in Liberia prompted U.S. authorities to freeze his American assets in 2004 and prohibited U.S. transactions with him, the indictment said.
Bout has maintained that he operated legitimate businesses and had acted as a mere logistics provider. His exact age is unclear, but he is believed to be in his late 40s or 50s, with his age in dispute due to different passports and documents.
The U.S. attorney’s office said it had no confirmed age.
Critics have accused Bout of providing arms to rebels in several countries and fueling bloody conflicts in places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In 2000, then-British Foreign Office Peter Hain branded him “Africa’s chief merchant of death” at a time when Bout is believed to have supplied arms to officials in Sierra Leone, a former British colony then embroiled in civil war.
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