International arms dealer Viktor Bout — believed to be the inspiration for the movie "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage — has been found guilty of trying to sell heavy weapons to Colombia's FARC rebels for attacks on US soldiers.
Bout, a former Soviet Air Force officer, was arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008 and extradited to New York in 2010 to face terrorism-related charges, Reuters reports.
According to The New York Times:
Bout, 44, faces a sentence of up to life in prison for conspiring to kill United States citizens, officers and employees by agreeing to sell weapons to drug enforcement informants who he believed were members of the Colombian terrorist organization known as the FARC; and for conspiring to acquire and export surface-to-air antiaircraft missiles, a conviction that carries a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.
Bout, nicknamed the "Merchant of Death" after the title of a book about his life, is considered the world's most notorious arms dealer, who prosecutors said had provided weapons that fuelled bloody conflicts around the world.
Bout's dealings, according to the Guardian, have included the US, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Northern Alliance and various groups involved in civil wars in Africa, "from Congo to Sierra Leone."
He was even "reputed to have a grasp on present-day Russian intelligence," The New York Times reported.
The Guardian quotes anti-arms-trade campaigners as "enthusiastically" welcoming the guilty verdict.
Kathi Lynn Austin, executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project and former United Nations investigator, reportedly said: "The verdict in the Viktor Bout trial closes the book on one of the most prolific enablers of war, mass atrocities and terrorism in the post-Cold War era. We should all be grateful that the world is safer now that the man who armed the hotspots of the globe is behind bars."
The prosecution said secret recordings proved that Bout was plotting to pocket millions from weapons sales, but Bout's attorneys said he had retired from arms dealing.
Lawyer Kenneth Kaplan, told reporters that Bout would appeal the conviction after sentencing, scheduled for Feb. 8.
"He's resolute. He's a strong man," The Wall Street Journal quotes Kaplan as saying. "He accepts the verdict and is hopeful."