NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Opening arguments began Wednesday in the trial of a former Soviet army officer accused of agreeing to sell weapons to anti-American rebels.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reports
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire said Viktor Bout was willing to sell staggering amounts of weapons and explosives and sell them to a South American terrorist group that he believed would kill American pilots.
McGuire pointed at Bout in U.S. District Court in Manhattan as he accused him of promising to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition in a shipment of weapons destined for Colombia in 2008.
“This man, Viktor Bout, agreed to provide all of it to a foreign terrorist organization he believes was going to kill Americans,” McGuire said in his opening statements.
The prosecutor added that Bout did not know he was trapped in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation and that the two men he was dealing with were working for the U.S. government.
He said Bout had the experience, the will and the means to deliver “staggering quantities of weapons and explosives” to the rebels.
The DEA had begun investigating Bout in 2007 because of his history of supplying black market weapons all over the world.
He was nabbed in the sting operation in Thailand where the government-paid informants posed as terrorists in the market for weapons.
Bout’s attorney Albert Dayan told the jury that his client was agreeing with whatever the DEA operatives were saying so that he could unload two transport planes in his fleet for $5 million and had no intention of selling weapons to anyone.
He said Bout lost his transport business and had turned to real estate when the U.S. operatives tried to trap him in a crime.
“Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just to sell his planes,” he said.
Just before openings began, the trial judge warned jurors not to reveal on social media sites that they’re on the case. She had them sign a pledge a day earlier not to research the case online.
Bout, 44, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges that carry a potential life sentence, maintaining through his lawyers that he is a legitimate businessman.
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