x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Businessman who helped lock up 'Merchant of Death' gets prison sentence

A South African businessman who helped put a Russian arms dealer known as The Merchant of Death behind bars for 25 years was rewarded with a five-year prison term for charges stemming from the same US sting operation.

NEW YORK // A South African businessman who helped put a Russian arms dealer known as The Merchant of Death behind bars for 25 years was rewarded with a five-year prison term for charges stemming from the same US sting operation.

The sentence means Andrew Smulian will be a free man within a few months, having been in custody continuously since his arrest in 2008.

Before hearing his fate on Wednesday, Smulian told a judge in federal court that he regretted ever getting involved in a deal to arm South American terrorists with Victor Bout that turned out to be an elaborate Drug Enforcement Administration sting.

"I would like to say that I categorically accept full responsibility for my own misconduct," Smulian said.

Before the sentence was imposed, prosecutors said Smulian, 71, deserved credit for immediately deciding to cooperate, pleading guilty to conspiracy charges and becoming a crucial government witness at Bout's trial last year.

The judge, Shira Scheindlin, described Smulian as a relatively harmless dupe - "a conduit the government used to get to the man they really wanted to catch".

The real catch was a former Soviet military officer who for two decades built a worldwide air cargo operation, amassing a fleet of more than 60 transport planes, hundreds of companies and a fortune reportedly in excess of $6 billion - exploits that were the main inspiration for the Nicholas Cage film Lord of War.

Bout's aircraft flew from Afghanistan to Angola, carrying everything from raw minerals to gladiolas, drilling equipment to frozen fish. But the network's speciality, according to authorities, was black market arms - assault rifles, ammunition, anti-aircraft missiles, helicopter gunships and a full range of sophisticated weapons systems, almost always sourced from Russian stocks or from Eastern European factories.