Viktor Bout, the international arms dealer convicted of conspiracy for plotting to sell weapons to a Colombian terrorist group, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the minimum term he faced.
A former officer in the Soviet Union, Bout, 45, was also sentenced yesterday to five years’ probation and ordered to forfeit $15 million by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan.
He was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008 in a sting operation set up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and brought to New York for trial. Jurors found him guilty of trying to set up a deal to sell arms, including surface-to-air missiles, with two men posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.
Scheindlin rejected prosecutors’ arguments that Bout be jailed for life, saying he responded to the deal presented in the sting operation and otherwise wouldn’t have sought out an opportunity to sell weapons to be used against Americans.
“Your honor, I am innocent,” Bout, 45, told Scheindlin before he was sentenced. “I never intended to kill anyone and I never intended to sell arms to anyone.”
Scheindlin said that while Bout “has sold weapons to some of the most vicious and violent regimes in the world,” it was unfair to impose an increased sentence applicable to terrorists. The judge said she would recommend that Bout serve his sentence near his lawyers in New York. She also said she would ask the Bureau of Prisons not to put Bout in solitary confinement.
Bout’s lawyer, Albert Y. Dayan, had urged the judge in a letter to refuse to punish Bout and not to become “an unwilling party in his wrongful prosecution.” In the hearing yesterday, he asked Scheindlin to give his client the minimum 25-year term.
Federal sentencing guidelines, which are not binding, called for a life sentence, prosecutors said.
FARC is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union. Prosecutors claim Bout knew the weapons were to be used by the group to kill Americans in Columbia.
At Bout’s trial, Andrew Smulian, an associate who pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government, and two undercover agents testified that Bout offered to sell them millions of dollars in weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, armor-piercing rocket launchers and AK-47 rifles.
Prosecutors said Bout, who also worked as an arms dealer in East Africa in the 1990s, controlled a fleet of as many as 50 cargo planes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to Africa, South America and the Middle East.
During his address to the judge, which was translated by an interpreter, Bout thanked his lawyers and court officers who had shown him respect. He pointed to government agents in the courtroom and said, “Let God forgive you, and you will answer to him, not to me.”
The case is U.S. v. Bout, 08-cr-0365, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).