Who is Viktor Bout? Russia May Release Brittney Griner in Exchange of Arms Dealer in US Jail, Say Reports

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American basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia, potentially signaling her incarceration. However, reports have been doing the rounds suggesting that Moscow is looking at negotiating her release in exchange of repatriating a notorious arms dealer sitting in the US prison.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Women's National Basketball Association All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury basketball team, is facing up to 10 years in Russian prison if found guilty.

Will Moscow Dig in for Former Military Officer?

Viktour Bout
Viktour Bout RFREL

A US lawyer representing convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout has said Russia would want his release in exchange for the release of Griner, according to NBC.

Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was sentenced to 25 years in the US in 2012. The US federal court had him guilty of selling arms to Colombian rebels. The charge against Bout in the US is that he plotted to kill Americans by making weapons available to terror outfits.

Russia has always insisted that Bout was a businessman and he was unfairly targeted. Moscow has consistently demanded Bout's release from the US.

Arrest and Extradition to US

Bout was extradited to the US in 2010, months after a Thai court overturned his plea contesting an extradition verdict.

He was arrested at a Thailand hotel in 2008 where he was discussing a weapons deal with U.S. undercover agents masquerading as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

What was Bout's Net Worth?

Bout became insanely rich dealing in arms at the behest of one of the world's most prolific weapons makers. Before his conviction and imprisonment in the US, he was estimated to be worth $6 billion. In popular culture, he had inspired the Nicholas Cage-starring Hollywood movie Lord of War.

By the mid-1990s, Bout had amassed more than 60 aircraft, which was a larger fleet than the air forces of many NATO nations. interestingly, a 2007 article by the Washington Post said Bout was an air-transport magnate.

Merchant of Death

Bout was given the moniker 'Merchant of Death' by former UK foreign minister Peter Hain. Western governments and rights organizations highlighted Bout's dealings with shady governments around the world, especially in Africa. He was known to have close ties with Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese former vice-president and war criminal.

Arms Sales in Afghanistan

In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, Bout had said he had delivered weapons to Afghanistan, helping the Soviet-supported administration fighting the Taliban. At the same time, Bout strongly denied charges that he had delivered weapons to Al-Qaeda operatives around the world.

This article was first published on July 8, 2022