The sentencing concluded a four-year drama for Mr. Bout and the United States government that began in March 2008 when he was taken into custody in Bangkok after being ensnared in a sting operation run by the Drug Enforcement Administration. His theatrical extradition to the United States, which Russian officials vigorously opposed, took more than two and a half years.
After a three-week trial last fall, Mr. Bout was convicted of conspiring to kill American citizens, officers and employees by agreeing to sell weapons to informants from the Drug Enforcement Agency who he believed were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a terrorist organization. A jury decided after less than two days of deliberation that Mr. Bout had believed the organization, also known as the FARC, had been intent on killing Americans.
Mr. Bout, 45, was also found guilty of conspiring to acquire and export surface-to-air antiaircraft missiles, and of conspiring to provide material support or weapons to a foreign terrorist organization. The supposed deal that Mr. Bout had struck with the informants included the potential delivery of tens of thousands of AK-47 rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, hundreds of missiles, ultralightweight airplanes and other military equipment.
A former Soviet Air Force officer, Mr. Bout had run what American officials have described as an international arms-trafficking network that armed Al Qaeda and the Taliban and provided weapons for civil wars in Africa. Mr. Bout was reputed to have present-day Russian intelligence connections, and his legend inspired the 2005 film “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bout maintained his innocence, even after his conviction.
In a 14-page memorandum sent to Justice Shira A. Scheindlin on March 27, Mr. Bout’s lawyer, Albert Y. Dayan, asked the judge “to decline to sentence Viktor Bout and thereby become an unwilling party in his wrongful prosecution.”
In the memo, Mr. Dayan argued that his client’s prosecution “for a noncrime concocted by agents of the United States government” was the “product of malice and object of private politics stemming from the then White House,” a reference to the Bush administration.
So pitiful was our country’s case against him that based upon the evidence he should have been acquitted,” Mr. Dayan wrote.
Mr. Dayan, who succeeded in February in getting Mr. Bout transferred from solitary confinement to the general population at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he had been held for 15 months, was expected to appeal the sentence.
Federal prosecutors wrote in their own 20-page sentencing memo, filed on March 30, that the 25-year mandatory minimum that Mr. Bout faced would be insufficient. A sentence of life imprisonment, the prosecutors, Anjan Sahni and Brendan R. McGuire, wrote, was the “appropriate” decision, emphasizing that Mr. Bout had been ready to become “a one-stop arms supplier, transporter, military instructor and money launderer” to the FARC.
Although Bout has often described himself as nothing more than a businessman,” they wrote, “he was a businessman of the most dangerous order.”