Alleged Arms Dealer's Past Debated Before Trial Viktor Bout, a Russian dubbed the "Merchant of Death," is due in a federal court in New York on Wednesday. At a hearing, prosecutors will ask a judge to let them present evidence to a jury of Bout's past involvement in weapons trafficking. But Bout says the law is being stretched too far.

Alleged Arms Dealer's Past Debated Before Trial

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


NPR's Carrie Johnson has the latest on a man known as the Merchant of Death.

CARRIE JOHNSON: It's the rare criminal defendant who can say his life has made it to the big screen in a movie starring Nicholas Cage. Here he is playing a fictionalized version of Viktor Bout in the 2005 film "Lord of War."


NICHOLAS CAGE: (as Yuri Orlov): There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every 12 people on the planet. The only question is, how do we arm the other 11?

JOHNSON: Drug Enforcement Administration official Thomas Harrigan put it this way at a news conference last year...

THOMAS HARRIGAN: When arrested, he oversaw operations capable of delivering enough weapons to launch rebellions, fuel revolutions, and slaughter untold thousands of people.

JOHNSON: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described the shopping list Bout had allegedly promised to fill. An arsenal Bharara said would be the envy of many small countries.

PREET BHARARA: More than 700 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK- 47 assault rifles, anti-personnel landmines, C4 explosives, and literally millions of rounds of ammunition.

JOHNSON: Not so fast, says Bout's lawyer, Albert Dayan.

ALBERT DAYAN: The prosecutors have revealed that they intend to introduce evidence in the trial designed to besmirch Bout's character and prejudice jurors against him, evidence of purported events occurring as long ago as 1997 and completely unconnected to the charged crimes.

JOHNSON: The U.S. Justice Department spent years trying to build a case against him and to get the government in Thailand, where he was arrested, to send him to New York for trial. Bout attorney Dayan says it was all a vendetta.

DAYAN: In our opinion, for political reasons, the United States government caused the arrest of Viktor Bout on the bases of wholly created and fraudulent charges, caused him to be extradited to the United States, by the exertion of enormous political pressure.

JOHNSON: Ira Lee Sorkin is a lawyer in New York. He defended another international arms dealer, Monzer al-Kassar, caught up in a similar sting operation.

LEE SORKIN: The statute clearly makes reference to the fact that if one is engaged in an act or a conspiracy to harm U.S. citizens or U.S. military, wherever they may be on this Earth, that gives the U.S. courts jurisdiction.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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