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United States of America v. Viktor Bout

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Court District Court for the Southern District of New York, United States
Case number 08 CR 365 (SAS)
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 5 February 2012
  • United States of America
  • Viktor Bout, a.k.a. Victor Bout, a.k.a. Victor Anatoliyevich Bout, a.k.a. Viktor Bulakin, a.k.a. Viktor Butt, a.k.a. Vadim Markovich Aminov, a.k.a. Viktor Budd, a.k.a. Boris
Categories Conspiracy, Material support to terrorism
Keywords arms trade, FARC, material support, terrorist organisation, weapons trafficking
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Viktor Bout, a notorious international arms dealer also known as the Merchant of Death, was alleged of trafficking weapons to several African warlords, dictators in the Middle-East and the Colombian FARC. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) decided to catch him through a sting operation in which DEA officers posed as FARC fighters and discussed with him a multimillion-dollar weapons transaction supposedly in order to aid the FARC in its fight against the Colombian government and the United States. The operation succeeded and Bout was caught by police forces in Thailand.

The US charged him with conspiracy to kill US nationals and officials and with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organisation (the FARC). Initially, Bout managed to have the Thai Criminal Court prohibit his extradition due to it being politically motivated. However, in appeals the decision was overturned and Bout was extradited to the US in 2010. A US jury found him guilty on all charges in 2011 and on 5 April 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment - the minimum sentence, since the judge had found "no reason to believe Bout would ever have committed the charged crimes".

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Procedural history

Viktor Bout was widely believed to be an important international arms trafficker involved in transactions with African warlords, dictators in the Middle-East and the Colombian FARC movement. Also, he was identified as an illicit arms dealer in a 2000 UN report about the civil war in Angola.

The Belgian prosecutor issued an arrest warrant against him in 2002 for money laundering, but a Brussels court dismissed the case against him on limitation grounds. However, US authorities in cooperation with the Thai police managed to arrest Bout in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2008. The US charged Bout with conspiracy to kill United States nationals, conspiracy to kill officers and employers of the United States, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation (the FARC). Therefore an extradition request was filed; although the Thai Criminal Court initially rejected the request (noting that the request was politically motivated and that Bout had not committed any crime on Thai territory) on 11 August 2009, this decision was overturned in appeal a year later and Bout was extradited to the US.

A jury found him guilty on all four counts on 2 November 2011.

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Related developments

After the sentencing judgment, Bout decided to appeal the judgment. The appeals case was lost though; the Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court's judgment. Bout's attorney announced in January 2014 that he would not appeal to the Supreme Court at this moment, but did not rule out the option for the future.

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Legally relevant facts

Bout was identified in a UN report on the Angolan civil war in 2000. However, he ultimately stood trial on the charge of conspiring to provide weapons to the FARC, which would be used against nationals and properties of the United States in Columbia. He was arrested in March 2008 during a sting operation in Thailand, with undercover US DEA agents posing as FARC rebels. Bout claimed that the sting operation was a provocation, that he had never had any intent to harm US nationals and that the trial was politically motivated. He pleaded not guilty.

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Core legal questions

Is Viktor Bout guilty of the charged offenses, namely: (1) conspiracy to kill US nationals, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2332(b); (2) conspiracy to kill US officers and employees, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1114 and 1117; (3) conspiracy to acquire and export a missile system designed to destroy aircraft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2332g; and (4) conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Paragraph 2332(b) of Title 18 of the US Code (conspiracy to kill US nationals).
  • Paragraphs 1114 and 1117 of Title 18 of the US Code (conspiracy to kill US officials and employees).
  • Paragraph 2332(g) of Title 18 of the US Code (conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles).
  • Paragraph 2339B of Title 18 of the US Code (conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation).

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Court's holding and analysis

Bout was sentenced to concurrent terms of 180 months’ (15 years) imprisonment on Counts One, Two, and Four and 300 months’ (25 years) imprisonment on Count Three. The resulting 25 years' imprisonment was the minimum sentence for the charges, since the judge found that "for the approach made through this determined sting operation, there is no reason to believe Bout would ever have committed the charged crimes" (see here).

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Further analysis

  • Law firm McNabb & Associates has posted a number of documents relating to the Bout trial on the website of JD Supra Business Advisors: see for example Trial Exhibit 1002-T (transcript of a conversation between Bout and a confidential DEA informant), and a court order granting Bout's request for to be transfered to general population (instead of solitary confinement). See also the "Bout Files" on Ria Novosti.

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials