Viktor Bout wanted American pilots killed, jury told
Before he introduced himself to jurors at the US district court in New York on Wednesday, assistant attorney Brendan McGuire stood before them and said: "One hundred surface to air missiles, 20,000 machine guns, 20,000 grenades, 740 mortars, 350 sniper rifles, 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tonnes of C-4 explosives." As Bout, with close-cropped hair and wearing a dark suit, looked on, McGuire told them: "Viktor Bout wanted to provide all of it to a foreign terrorist organisation he believed wanted to kill Americans. He had the experience to do it, he had the expertise to do it, he had the will to do it. He wanted to do it. Why? For the money."
"This is not a complicated case," he told the jury. In fact, he said, it was "relatively straightforward".
Bout, 44, has pleaded not guilty to four conspiracy charges against him. His defence is that he was a businessman who ran an air freight business in conflict zones. The jury was told that the story began at Bout's home in Moscow, when a co-conspirator of Bout's told him he had been approached by a weapons buyer from Farc rebels in Colombia, who were engaged in a fight against the US-backed government. What followed, after several meetings between the co-conspirator and the weapons buyers in a small South American country, was a face-to-face meeting. Bout's co-conspirator had warned the buyers that he was restricted in his movements – a UN resolution was in place from 2004 which stopped him entering or leaving their territories.McGuire said Bout had planned the logistics, was "in control" and had even taken the initiative to suggest other weapons for Farc.
The weapons, he told the jury, never made it into the hands of Farc as this was a sting, an undercover operation directed by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Unbeknown to Bout, he said, the weapons buyers were both "confidential sources" for the DEA. "But," McGuire told the jury, "the defendant's desire to do the deal is real."
Also unknown to Bout, virtually everything he said to the sources was on tape. McGuire said: "You will hear those recordings in this trial and you will hear Bout."
Bout's wife, Alla, who at one point raised her hand in court to wave at her husband as he turned to look at her, sat a few feet behind him with their daughter, Dora. Both wore headphones to listen to a translation of the proceedings.
Splitting the case into three chapters, McGuire told the jury that part one began in 2007, when the DEA started to investigate Bout, who had a "history of being involved in the weapons business" and came across a contact of his.
Posing as weapons buyers, the sources, Carlos and Ricardo – who was known as "el Commandante" – told this contact that they were from Farc. The group, they explained, was at war with the Colombian authorites who were being aided by the Americans.
Part two began, the jury heard, when Bout proposed the weapons deal. He was able to provide a team of military trainees for Farc and the ability to drop weapons in Colombia as he had done previously, said McGuire. Part three came when Bout, who was based in Moscow due to the UN resolution restricting his movements, flew to Thailand to meet the supposed weapons buyers in March 2008.
McGuire said that the sources told Bout that they needed weapons to kill American pilots who were assisting the Colombian government.
He said the jury would hear a recording of Bout saying: "We're together and we have the same enemy. It's not business, it is my fight. I'm fighting the US from 10 to 15 years." He was "all-in" for the $5m deal, McGuire said.
"On his own Bout had worked out a cover for the deal, a plan to make this deal seem legitimate," Bout said.
Bout's defence lawyer, Albert Dayan, told the jury in his opening that his client was in fact the victim of an aggressive hunt by federal agents who were, as the prosecutors admitted, former criminals.
His client was stringing the weapons buyers along in order to secure a deal to sell them two planes. He had no intention, Dayan said, of selling them weapons.