Trial opens in case of accused Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout dubbed the Merchant of Death

Sketch of Viktor Bout in court, Oct. 12, 2011. Artist: Jane Rosenberg

Sketch of Viktor Bout in court, Oct. 12, 2011.
Artist: Jane Rosenberg

by CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton, who was in court today

NEW YORK - A former Soviet military officer agreed to sell an arsenal of weapons to Colombian rebels to kill Americans for millions of dollars, a U.S. prosecutor charged Wednesday at the opening of the trial of the man known as the Merchant of Death.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire pointed to Viktor Bout in U.S.District Court in New York and accused him of agreeing to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, high-powered sniper rifles, and 10 million

rounds of ammunition to arms buyers for the Columbian terrorist group FARC, claiming they wanted the weapons to shoot down American pilots.

60 Minutes: Capturing the Merchant of Death

McGuire told the jury what Bout didn't know at the time was that the men were informants working as part of a sting operation being conducted by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Bout had the experience, the means, and the will to deliver "staggering quantities" of weapons and explosives to the rebels.

"WHY? For the money," McGuire said.

(Watch Armen Keteyian's 60 Minutes report, below)

Bout was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 and extradited to the United States last year following a tense political tug-of-war between Russia and the United States.

Bout, appearing thin and wearing a gray suit and thick black mustache, seemed to listen intently to the opening remarks as he sat quietly at the defense table.

His defense attorney Albert Dayan told the jury that Bout never intended to go through with the arms deal.

Dyan said that Bout was agreeing to whatever the DEA operatives were saying so that he could dispose of two cargo planes for $5 million.

"Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping to sell his planes,'' he said.

The 44-year-old Bout has pleaded not guilty to the charges maintaining that he was a legitimate businessman. If convicted of all charges he could face up to life in prison.

For decades Bout has been blamed for fueling deadly Third World conflicts with his weapons. He is said to be worth $6 billion and to have inspired the character portrayed by actor Nicholas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War."

  • Pat Milton

    Pat Milton is a CBS News investigative producer

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