As the trial began last week in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the lawyers for three West African defendants made a series of highly unusual admissions: One after another, they told the jury that their clients were involved in the global drug trade. “He has been, for a very long time, a very active international drug merchant all over the world,” the first man’s lawyer said. The second man transported “merchandise” by land and sea, his lawyer said, adding for clarity, “The merchandise was cocaine.” The third man was willing to transport cocaine, his lawyer said, “if the price was right.” But the three lawyers were steadfast in their denials that their clients had ever agreed to send drugs into the United States, the central accusation of a high-profile sting operation run by the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. The sting led to the men’s arrests last year in Liberia; they were later sent here for trial. Prosecutors have said … [Read more...] about Admitting Clients Are Drug Traffickers, but Denying Guilt
Indictment charges 8 for involvement in drug trafficking ring
Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian courtroom on Thursday, as the wrangling over the American basketball star’s fate shifted increasingly to the diplomatic arena — a daunting prospect for Ms. Griner’s supporters amid America’s rift with Moscow over the war in Ukraine. Appearing before a judge outside the Russian capital on the second day of her trial, Ms. Griner said she had unintentionally carried a banned substance into the country because she had packed in a hurry. The Russian authorities say they found vape cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage when Ms. Griner arrived in February to play basketball, and she has been detained ever since, facing 10 years in prison in a penal colony. “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Ms. Griner said in English, which was then translated into Russian, according to a Reuters reporter in the courtroom. Ms. Griner told the court she would say … [Read more...] about Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Drug Charges in Russian Court
Bout flashing a victory sign in detention in Bangkok in 2009. Photo: PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP via Getty Images After nearly ten months in detention in Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner is returning to the United States after the U.S. negotiated a rare prisoner swap in exchange for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout . The entire ordeal has been a strange example of jockeying between two powerful adversaries — Griner’s arrest for bringing less than a gram of hashish oil into the country, her nine-year sentence in a remote penal colony — made stranger by the trade for Bout, a notorious gun trafficker sentenced to 25 years in the U.S. for a litany of charges. As Bout heads home, here are some of the wildest clips from the notorious career of the so-called “merchant of death.” A competitive volleyball player born in what is now Tajikistan in 1967, Bout used his connections from his time in the Soviet military to begin moving weapons from the fallen Soviet Union in … [Read more...] about The 7 Craziest Facts of Arms Trafficker Viktor Bout’s Career
There had been testimony about Colombian terrorists, drug shipment flights from South America to West Africa and a government sting that featured the covert participation of the Liberian president’s son. If that was not enough, the jurors in Courtroom 14B of Federal District Court in Manhattan also had to consider a novel legal defense used by three of the four defendants, whose lawyers acknowledged that their clients were part of the global drug trade but said they were not part of any plot that involved sending cocaine to the United States — the element of the conspiracy that would violate American law. On Thursday, the third day of deliberations, the jurors returned a split verdict. They convicted two defendants of conspiring to distribute cocaine from a base in Liberia but acquitted two others of the same crime. The men found guilty were Chigbo Peter Umeh, a Nigerian whom prosecutors described as a broker specializing in shipping narcotics; and a Russian pilot, Konstantin … [Read more...] about Jury Convicts 2 and Acquits 2 in Cocaine Scheme
The government of Russia and its state media arms celebrated the release on Thursday of Viktor Bout, a warlord known as the “Merchant of Death,” from U.S. custody as a “New Year gift” for a “wonderful person.” The administration of far-left President Joe Biden liberated Bout, who had been sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of attempting to sell weapons to Colombian communist terrorists, in exchange for Russia freeing WNBA player Brittney Griner, convicted of bringing a cannabis product into Russia. Law enforcement experts consider Bout one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers and the Department of Justice had compiled evidence prior to his extradition and sentencing of Bout admitting that he supported trafficking weapons to kill Americans. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday that the risk of Bout operating freely was worth Griner’s release because the basketball player was “an important role model and inspiration to millions … [Read more...] about ‘New Year Gift’: Russia Takes Victory Lap After Biden Frees ‘Merchant of Death’
Venezuela’s authoritarian government on Tuesday released at least two imprisoned Americans, a potential turning point in the Biden administration’s relationship with Russia’s staunchest ally in the Western Hemisphere. The release followed a rare trip by a high-level U.S. delegation to Venezuela over the weekend to meet with President Nicolás Maduro, part of a broader Biden administration agenda in autocratic countries that may be rethinking their ties with President Vladimir V. Putin in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The talks with Venezuela, which has enormous proven oil reserves, assumed new urgency after President Biden announced Tuesday that the United States would ban Russian oil and gas imports because of the invasion. That move is expected to further tighten the availability of crude oil on the global market, and could raise gas prices at a moment when inflation has climbed at its fastest pace in 40 years. “This is a step that we’re taking to inflict … [Read more...] about Venezuela Releases Imprisoned Americans After Talks With U.S.