Shortly after he was convicted in 2011 on charges including conspiracy to kill American citizens, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout delivered a cheeky message through his lawyer, even though he faced the prospect of a decade in prison.
According to his lawyer, Mr. Bout “doesn’t think it’s over yet.”
More than a decade later, Mr Booth, 55, may be getting closer to a chance to start a new life, even though he has served less than half of his 25-year prison sentence.
The United States, seeking to negotiate the release of two Americans imprisoned in Russia – basketball star Brittney Greener and former Marine Paul Whelan – last month offered to trade them for Mr. Booth, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.
Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken declined to discuss details of a possible swap on Wednesday, but said the United States had made a “substantial offer.” He said he expected to raise the issue in the coming days with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russian officials are pushing for Mr. Bout’s return after he was convicted by a New York jury in 2011 on four counts of conspiracy, including conspiracy to kill American citizens. Prosecutors said he agreed to sell anti-aircraft weapons to anti-narcotics informants who posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Then Attorney General Eric Holder called him “one of the most prolific arms dealers in the world.” Now he is probably the most famous Russian in US custody.
Mr. Booth (pronounced “Bot”) gained notoriety among US intelligence officials, earning the nickname “Death Dealer” as he evaded arrest for years. His exploits inspired the 2005 film Lord of War, which starred Nicolas Cage as a character named Yuri Orlov.
Mr. Bout grew up in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) before being drafted into the Soviet armed forces at the age of 18. After serving in the army, he studied Portuguese at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, which was common for the Russian secret services, and eventually became an Air Force officer.
The Soviet Union collapsed shortly after Mr. Bout left the army. When the Russian economy collapsed and criminal gangs flourished, he moved to the United Arab Emirates and founded a cargo company that grew to a fleet of 60 aircraft.
With military supplies from former Soviet republics diverted to the black market, his shipping empire has delivered weapons to insurgents, militants and terrorists around the world, prosecutors said.
Mr. Bout was accused of selling weapons to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and militants in Rwanda. According to United Nations investigations, he violated arms embargoes in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria, where he sold weapons to both government forces and rebels fighting them.
US authorities finally caught him in Bangkok in 2008. Booth met with undercover DEA agents who he believed represented rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. until last year.
When potential buyers told him that the weapon could be used to kill American airmen, Mr Bout replied: “We have the same enemy,” prosecutors said.
Thai authorities arrested him on the spot.
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In 2010, he was extradited to the United States, and two years later he was sentenced to 25 years.
Ivan Nechepurenko made a report.