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Brittney Griner Officially Traded In Russian Prisoner Swap For ‘Merchant Of Death’ Arms Dealer Viktor Bout

Brittney Griner Officially Traded In Russian Prisoner Swap For ‘Merchant Of Death’ Arms Dealer Viktor Bout

Griner traded

Photo: Thai police accompany Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout to criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File)/ Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner at basketball's WNBA finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner has been freed in a prisoner swap with Russian arms dealer Viktor “Merchant of Death” Bout.

Griner has been imprisoned in Russia since her February 2022 arrest after Russian police said they found cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

Her arrest coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. suspects that Russia used Griner and another U.S. prisoner — retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan  — as leverage. Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia, where he has been in custody for almost four years on espionage charges that the U.S. has called false.

For years, Griner had played in the off-season for a Russian women’s basketball team. She was arrested on drug smuggling charges at a Moscow airport and testified that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil found in her luggage.

Sentenced to nine years in prison, Griner was sent in November to a penal colony, according to her legal team, AP reported. Human rights groups have described conditions in the Russian penal colonies as bleak and dehumanizing with corrupt guards, military rules, exhausting workdays and extreme isolation.


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The prisoner swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.  

The one-for-one exchange agreement was negotiated in recent weeks with final approval by President Biden just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Biden ordered Bout to be freed and returned to Russia, cutting short a 25-year federal prison sentence. 

Most recently held at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, Bout was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Thailand after a sting operation in 2008. He was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and began his 25-year sentence a decade ago. 

Nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” Bout is a Russian businessman who speaks six languages and a former Soviet military officer. He was charged with conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. 

Bout eluded arrest and asset freezes for years, CNN reported. He was finally arrested in a 2008 sting operation led by U.S. drug enforcement agents in Thailand posing as FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. He was eventually extradited to the U.S. in 2010. The trial focused on Bout’s role in supplying weapons to FARC, a guerrilla group that staged an insurgency in Colombia until 2016.

Prior to his arrest, Bout was accused by the U.N. of arming Liberian President Charles Taylor during the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. Bout was the inspiration for Nicholas Cage’s character in the Hollywood movie “Lord of War.”

Photo: Thai police accompany Russian arms dealer Viktor “Merchant of Death” Bout to criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File)/ Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner at WNBA basketball finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)