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Russia Furious Over Bout Sentence

  • Courtney Brooks

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (center) is escorted by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officers in November 2010

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (center) is escorted by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officers in November 2010

Russia has condemned the United States' sentencing of notorious Russian arms trader Viktor Bout as "baseless and biased."

In Moscow on April 6, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "Despite insufficient evidence and the unlawful nature of [Bout's] arrest in Thailand, which involved agents of U.S. security services, and his subsequent extradition, the U.S. justice system, acting clearly on political orders, ignored defense attorneys' arguments and numerous appeals from different levels in defense of a Russian citizen."

Zakharova added that Moscow would make "every possible effort” to bring Bout back to Russia, “using existing international legal mechanisms."

Bout, nicknamed the Merchant of Death, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on April 5 after being found guilty in November on four charges of conspiracy.

He was handed a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence for conspiracy to sell missiles to terrorists, and 15 years each for conspiracy to kill U.S. service personnel, conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens, and conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization.

The sentences will run concurrently, leaving Bout in custody for 25 years. He was convicted on all four charges in November in a Manhattan federal court.

The court also ordered him to forfeit $15 million

A prosecutor in the courtroom painted Bout as one of the world's worst criminals, repeatedly calling his conduct "chilling" when describing the sting operation. When the prosecutor said Bout had agreed to sell weapons to kill Americans, Bout shouted, "It's a lie!"

The prosecutor also said Bout had fueled conflicts by selling weapons to hot spots including Rwanda, Angola, and the Congo, and implored the judge to put Bout away for life.

Bout's wife, Alla, speaks to the media outside Manhattan Federal Court in New York on April 5.

Bout's wife, Alla, speaks to the media outside Manhattan Federal Court in New York on April 5.

'Reasonable Doubt'

Bout's wife, Alla, called the sentence a "victory" because it was the minimum possible.

"The sentence that was given to Viktor today is obviously a recognition of the insufficiency of the prosecutor's arguments," she said. "I think it's a victory, a victory for Viktor and his defense."

Bout’s defense attorney, Albert Dayan, said they would appeal the sentence and called the conviction "unlawful," claiming that it was based on "vindictiveness and personal politics."

His defense of Bout largely rested on the government's alleged wrongdoing, and he repeatedly said that the case had "built-in reasonable doubt."

He also said: "There is no greater sin than to condemn someone for a crime he didn't commit because he's a bad guy."

Albert Dayan (right), the attorney for Viktor Bout

Albert Dayan (right), the attorney for Viktor Bout

Dayan told reporters outside the courthouse after sentencing on April 5 that there would be an appeal but he also mentioned Bout appreciated receiving the minimum sentence.

"The judge could have given him as much as life, and he is grateful to her for carefully considering the facts and circumstances of this investigation and prosecution," Dayan said, adding that Bout "intends to move forward in the court of appeals, and if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court."

Bout Declares Innocence

Bout dramatically proclaimed his innocence during his statement, which he read in Russian. He turned around to point at several officials sitting behind him, saying, "they will have to live with this truth, they will go to bed with this truth, they will have to get up with this truth, they will raise their children with this truth, and they will love their wives with this truth."

He added, "Let God forgive you, and you will answer to him, not to me."

In the sting operation that led to Bout's arrest, agents posed as buyers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Washington considers to be a terrorist organization.

Prosecutors said Bout had agreed to provide the agents with an arsenal of military weaponry and that he understood they would be used to attack U.S. helicopter pilots and other U.S. citizens in Colombia.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Bout in 2001 because of his reputation as a dealer in the illegal arms market.

As Bout -- who was the inspiration for the 2005 Hollywood movie "Lord of War" -- left the courtroom, he told his wife and daughter he loved them. He then quoted a line from an old Soviet military song called "Varyag," saying that he would never surrender.

Dayan told reporters they had not seen the last of Viktor Bout.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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