"Merchant of Death" Arms Dealer Pleads Not Guilty in NY Court

Russian arms dealer behind bars in Manhattan

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Russian labeled the "Merchant of Death" by those who claim he fueled some of the world's deadly Third World conflicts over the last decade with powerful weapons has arrived in the United States. He faces charges he supported terrorists trying to overthrow the government of Colombia and shared their hatred for Americans. (Published Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010)

    A Russian arms dealer -- called the "Merchant of Death" by some -- pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan courtroom Wednesday to allegations of supporting terrorists trying to overthrow the government of Colombia.

    Viktor Bout was ordered held without bail by a federal judge.

    He was flown by Drug Enforcement Administration agents from Thailand to New York following a sting operation where he was allegedly trying to sell weapons and explosives to rebels in Colombia.

    "The so called 'merchant of death' is now a federal inmate," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

    Based on his answers to a financial affidavit, Bout appeared to be cut off from his money.
       
    Asked during Wednesday's court appearance if he had assets, he wrote "not in the U. S." and asked if employed, he wrote that he has been imprisoned since March 6, 2008.

    Dressed in a brown shirt and black track pants, with a red stripe, Bout used a Russian translator but appeared to understand when Judge Shira Scheindlin spoke in English.  Bout stood up and said "Good afternoon" to the judge and "Yes your honor," in recognition of his right to remain silent.

    When Judge Scheindlin asked if he had answered honestly on the financial affidavit, he said "Yes I swear" in Russian and held up his right hand.  He wrote that he was married and has a 16-year-old.

    Prosecutors wanted no bail and Bout's attorney asked for temporary detention, leaving the door open to a future bail application.  The next court date is January 10, 2011.

    Investigators said in a meeting with undercover DEA agents posing as FARC rebels, Bout allegedly claimed he was willing to ship machine guns, C-4 explosives, surface to air missiles and unmanned aircraft and other weapons to help the FARC ship cocaine and to 'kill Americans.".

    Bout arrived late Tuesday at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., before he was brought to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan to await an initial court appearance expected Wednesday afternoon.

    Bout, 43, a former Soviet military officer and air cargo executive, was flown from Bangkok, Thailand, to suburban New York on a chartered U.S. plane just four days before an extradition order would have expired, permitting him to be freed and returned home to his native Moscow.

    Instead, he was taken in manacles and a bulletproof vest as Russian diplomats made a final outraged push to persuade Thailand to release him, according to current and former U.S. officials.

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Bout was considered "one of the world's most prolific arms traffickers."

    "Viktor Bout has been indicted in the United States, but his alleged arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts in Africa has been a cause of concern around the world," Holder said in a statement. "His extradition is a victory for the rule of law worldwide."

    For several months, U.S. and Russian officials had battled for control of Bout.

    Estimated to be worth $6 billion, Bout had remained in a Thai jail as his supporters fought to prevent him from landing in U.S. custody. Bout and Russian authorites insist he's a legitimate businessman.