Who is Viktor Bout, Russia’s ‘Merchant of Death’ freed in prisoner swap for Brittney Griner? US, Russia agree to swap Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, arms dealer who was portrayed in 2005 film ‘Lord of War’
WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from the Russian prison system in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” Fox News confirmed Thursday with a senior administration official.
Reports earlier this year suggested that Bout, whose weapons sales fueled deadly conflicts around the world, could be exchanged for Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
But Whelan does not appear to have been a part of the exchange despite the assertion by the State Department that he has been wrongfully detained.
The former Marine was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on alleged espionage charges.
Who is Viktor Bout?
Russian officials have long pushed for the release of Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in U.S. prison after being convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and aiding a terrorist organization.
He was nabbed in 2008 in a sting operation at a luxury hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where he met with Drug Enforcement Administration informants who were posing as officials with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been classified by US officials as a narco-terrorist group.
Prosecutors said that Bout was prepared to provide the group with $20 million worth of “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives.”
Bout, who was played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie “Lord of War,” has maintained his innocence, claiming that he is a legitimate businessman.
The Russian state-owned news agency TASS originally reported in May that talks are underway to exchange Bout for Griner.