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Viktor Bout: Lawyer for convicted Russian arms dealer ‘confident’ of US prisoner swap with Brittney Griner

Notorious ‘Merchant of Death’ serving 25 years in US prison

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Wednesday 03 August 2022 13:06 BST
John Kirby says a ‘substantial offer to secure the release’ of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner

A lawyer for “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout says he is “confidant” a prisoner exchange involving Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan will go through.

The White House has reportedly made Moscow an offer to swap imprisoned Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US, for the WNBA star and Mr Whelan.

Ms Griner is currently on trial in Moscow for cannabis possession and faces a 10-year prison sentence if convicted. Mr Whelan was arrested in Russia in 2018 on accusations of spying and is serving a 16-year sentence.

“I do have some information about the progress of how things are going … But that information comes from the Russian side as opposed to the American side,” Bout’s attorney Steve Zissou told CNN.

“I’m confident this is going to get done.Look, it’s no secret they’ve been wanting him back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades. That’s not something they’ve ever kept secret.”

Russian officials have, however, also asked for Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency, to be included in any deal, according to the news network.

Krasikov is serving a life sentence for the murder of former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in Berlin in 2019.

Bout, a 55-year-old former Soviet military officer, was arrested in Bangkok in 2008 in a sting operation in which US officials posed as Colombian rebels. He was held in custody for two years in Thailand before being extradited to the US to go on trial.

In April 2012, a US judge sentenced him to 25 years for attempting to sell heavy weapons to the  Colombian “rebels.”

Bout, 55, had agreed to sell 100 portable surface-to-air missiles and around 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia during the meeting at a Bangkok hotel.

But instead, he had actually sat down with US Drug Enforcement Administration officials posing as members of the left-wing guerrilla group that was designated a terror organisation by the US.

Ever since he was convicted, the Russian government has demanded his release. Now that could happen finally come to help ensure the safe return of Ms Griner and Mr Whelan to American soil.

National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told CNN on Monday that Russia should accept the White House’s original offer.

“This so-called, you call it a counteroffer, we would call it a bad faith attempt to avoid what is a serious proposal already on the table,” said Mr Kirby.

“Holding two Americans who have been wrongfully detained hostage for a convicted murderer in a third country is just – we don’t consider that a serious counteroffer at all.

“It is nothing more than a bad faith attempt by the Russians publicly to avoid what is a serious proposal, one that we are not making detailed in public and has been on the books for several weeks and we urge the Russians to accept it.”

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