(MOSCOW) — The Russian government blasted the United States on Friday for its “unjustified” decision to sentence Viktor Bout, the infamous international arms dealer, called the “Merchant of Death” by some, to 25 years in prison and vowed to take the Russian national back home.
“The verdict of the U.S. court sentencing Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison is unjustified and agenda-driven,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its English-language Twitter account. “The [Foreign Ministry] will do all it can to arrange Viktor Bout’s return to his home country. This issue will remain a priority on the Russia – U.S. agenda.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later added that Russia will support Bout’s efforts to appeal the sentence. Lavrov suggested Bout’s conviction last November was the result of “unprecedented pressure” from the United States government that interfered with the independence of the court.
Bout, a Russian citizen and ex-Soviet air force officer, was convicted in November 2011 of attempting to sell millions of dollars-worth of arms to Colombia’s Marxist rebel group the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) which was targeting Americans.
After years evading capture, Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 in a sting operation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Court records say Bout agreed during conversations with undercover DEA informants to supply surface-to-air missiles, AK-47 rifles, anti-personnel landmines, C-4 plastic explosive, night vision goggles and unmanned drones.
Bout is also believed to have sold arms to terror groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. He has been accused of fueling conflicts from Africa to South America to Asia, sometimes even allegedly arming both sides. He was mentioned in a 2000 United Nations report as a former air force officer “strongly suspected to be connected to Russian organized crime.” The U.N. said he “supplied military equipment and other necessities to all conflict areas in Africa.”
He was the inspiration for the arms dealing protagonist played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of War.
Bout is believed to have strong connections to top Russian officials who helped protect him before his capture. Russia bitterly fought against his extradition to the United States, which was delayed until 2010.
On the eve of his sentencing, an attorney for Bout reportedly sent a letter to the U.S. court protesting his prosecution and the entire court process.
“We have called the prosecution of Viktor Bout ‘outrageous governmental conduct.’ That does not go nearly far enough — it’s a disgrace,” the letter said, according to Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti.
In a recent interview with a Russian radio station, Bout, who has maintained his innocence, said the U.S. wasn’t looking for the truth in his case.
“Some American arms smugglers are even more guilty but they enjoy freedom,” Bout said Wednesday, The Voice of Russia reported.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN