SA pilot gets five years in US arms-sting trial

NEW YORK: A South African pilot who testified against his former associate and jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was himself sentenced to five years in a US federal prison on Wednesday.

Andrew Smulian, 71, was arrested in 2008 in Thailand along with Bout in an undercover sting by US agents posing as Colombian guerrillas looking to buy weapons.

Bout, the subject of a book titled Merchant of Death, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Manhattan federal court Judge Shira Scheindlin last month after being convicted.

Bout has maintained his innocence.

Upon his arrest, Smulian immediately began co-operating with US authorities, Manhattan federal prosecutors said.

Smulian testified against Bout at the weapon dealer’s three-week trial last year. In sentencing Smulian, the judge said the only reason he was roped into the case was because US authorities had used him to get to Bout. “He was a conduit used by the government to get to the man they really wanted to catch,” Scheindlin said.

Smulian, who has been incarcerated for 50 months, must serve less than a year in prison in order to complete the five-year sentence, his lawyer said.

In the operation that netted Bout and Smulian, US informants posed as arms buyers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc. Bout was charged only in connection with the suspected arms deal, but US authorities have said he has been involved in trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Washington classifies Farc, a Marxist-inspired guerrilla army, as a terrorist organisation and says it is deeply involved in the cocaine trade. – Reuters


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