NEW YORK (AP) — The latest effort to nullify the conviction of a notorious Russian arms dealer dubbed the Merchant of Death has met an unreceptive audience of U.S. appeals court judges.
All three judges on a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing an appeal on behalf of Viktor Bout expressed skepticism Monday about his claims of unfair prosecution. The judges did not immediately rule on the latest challenge to Bout's conviction and 25-year prison sentence.
Alexey Tarasov, a lawyer for the ex-Soviet military officer who was extradited to the United States in 2010 and convicted in 2011, argued that his client was unfairly prosecuted because the man he was supposedly conspiring with in a weapons plot was working for the U.S. government all along as the Drug Enforcement Administration developed a sting operation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou said that was not true and the government acted properly as it built its case against Bout.
For nearly two decades, Bout built a worldwide air cargo operation, amassing a fleet of more than 60 transport planes, hundreds of companies and a fortune in excess of $6 billion, exploits that were the inspiration for the Nicolas Cage film "Lord of War."
Bout's aircraft flew from Afghanistan to Angola, carrying everything from raw minerals to frozen fish. But the network's specialty, authorities said, was black market arms — assault rifles, ammunition, anti-aircraft missiles, helicopter gunships and sophisticated weapons systems, almost always sourced from Russian stocks or from Eastern European factories.
Throughout the case, Bout maintained he was a legitimate businessman who wasn't selling arms.
The Merchant of Death moniker was attached to Bout by a high-ranking minister at Britain's Foreign Office, who had drawn attention to his 1990s notoriety for running a fleet of aging Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict-ridden hotspots in Africa. The nickname was included in the U.S. government's indictment of Bout.