Viktor Bout is sentenced to 25 years in prison
Bout was convicted last year on four counts stemming from weapons deals
His lawyer wanted the conviction overturned and said the prosecution was 'political'
Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was sentenced Thursday to 25 years behind bars by a federal judge in New York.
“I am not guilty,” Bout said through a translator. “I never intended to kill anyone. I never intended to sell any arms to anyone. God knows this is the truth.”
Last year Bout, who was dubbed “the merchant of death” by his accusers, was convicted on four counts of conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and provide material support to a terrorist organization.
He had faced the possibility of life in prison.
“Viktor Bout has been international arms trafficking enemy number one for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts around the globe,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. “He was finally brought to justice in an American court for agreeing to provide a staggering number of military-grade weapons to an avowed terrorist organization committed to killing Americans.”
Bout’s wife, Alla, said after the hearing that her husband “said few words” in reaction to the sentence.
“The war is not lost yet,” Alla Bout said, speaking in Russian. She said she and her husband could see each other once a week and “yesterday we had a very serious conversation regarding him speaking in court – there was a very long speech written … Viktor together with his defense decided that he did not have anyone to prove himself to in that courtroom or accept his guilt or say anything else regarding the reliability of this case because he did not accept this case from the beginning as a lawful case, starting from the process in Thailand to his extradition to United States.”
At the trial, the prosecution said that during a 2008 sting operation by U.S. drug enforcement agents in Thailand, Bout believed he was selling weapons to Colombian guerrillas.
His lawyer, Albert Dayan, filed a letter last week asking Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who presided over the trial and who set Bout’s sentence, to set aside the guilty verdict.
Dayan urged the judge not to “become an unwilling party” in what he called a “wrongful prosecution” for “purely political reasons.” He argued that the conviction is a “product of malice” and that Bout has been an “object of private politics” coming from Washington.
The lawyer claimed that Bout was picked out by the United States government and lured into a crime manufactured by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in which the agency played “the role of judge, jury and executioner. “
In his claim, Dayan insisted that Bout did not intend to sell any arms to the agents, that he had not sold any arms for several years and that the only thing he wanted to sell were two cargo airplanes, worth $5 million. Dayan stood by the claim that DEA officers baited his client into illegal activities.
“I do not profess, I do not argue that he’s an angel, but he is innocent of these charges,” Dayan wrote. “I felt it was my duty to speak out and let the world know.”
According to a federal indictment, Bout was suspected of creating front companies that used his planes to deliver food and medical supplies, as well as arms.
After a sting operation in 2008, he was arrested in Thailand and in 2010 was extradited to the United States following a protracted court proceeding.
He was convicted in November after a three-week trial in New York.
Before his arrest, the DEA had struggled to draw Bout out of his Russian homeland, which is long thought to have sheltered and defended him.
Undercover agents met with Bout’s associates the world over, from Curacao to Copenhagen, in an attempt to set up a meeting with their target, according to the indictment.
The Russian businessman also has been accused of assembling a fleet of cargo planes to traffic military-grade weapons to conflict zones around the world since the 1990s.
Allegations of trafficking activities in Liberia prompted U.S. authorities to freeze his American assets in 2004 and prohibited U.S. transactions with him, according to the indictment.
Bout has maintained that he operated legitimate businesses and had acted as a mere logistics provider. His exact age is unclear, but he is believed to be in his late 40s or 50s, with his age in dispute because of different passports and documents.
The U.S. attorney’s office said it had no confirmed age.
Critics have accused Bout of providing arms to rebels in several countries and fueling bloody conflicts in places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In 2000, then-British Foreign Office official Peter Hain branded him “Africa’s chief merchant of death” at a time when Bout is believed to have supplied arms to officials in Sierra Leone, a former British colony then embroiled in civil war.
CNN’s Michael Tang and Julia Talanova contributed to this report.