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Viktor Bout on Trial

Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” faces trial this week in a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan on charges of conspiring to sell weapons to a terrorist organization. A Russian businessman who built a reported $6 billion empire with a massive armada of cargo planes, Bout became the target of international authorities for his suspected prominence as the world’s most notorious arms trafficker. Bout, 44, endured harsh U.S. financial sanctions and an international travel ban imposed by the UN, but was finally arrested in Bangkok in 2008 after he fell for an undercover sting led by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Bout was charged with conspiring to sell anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to informants posing as South American terrorists, and he was also charged with conspiring to kill American citizens. His trial is expected to last at least two weeks. The case will feature extensive wiretap evidence and testimony by the informants as well as a veteran pilot who once worked with Bout and agreed to testify for the U.S. after he was also arrested in Bangkok. Bout suffered through a grueling two-year captivity in a Thai prison while the U.S. and Russia locked in a diplomatic tug-of-war. That ended when Thailand allowed Bout’s  extradition last November. Bout faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted on the charges.

AP, By Stephen Braun and Larry Neumeister: “For nearly two decades, Viktor Bout ruled an empire of the air. He dispatched a private fleet of long-haul cargo planes that spanned the globe, shipping heavy machinery, frozen chickens and more. The Russian businessman is grounded now, facing trial this week in a New York federal courtroom for what Western governments insist was his real specialty — arranging delivery of tons of weapons that inflamed violence across the world’s war zones.”

 —Wall Street Journal: “Jury selection in Mr. Bout’s case is set to begin Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, where Judge Shira Scheindlin is trying to keep the more sensational claims about Mr. Bout’s past from prejudicing the panel. She plans to have jurors sign a card pledging not to do Internet research on the defendant—a growing concern for courts trying to ensure fair trials. In Mr. Bout’s case, there is plenty to find, including a book about him titled “Merchant of Death.”