The United States carried out a high-level prisoner swap with Russia in an attempt to free basketball star Brittney Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil.

In exchange for Griner’s safe return to the US, the Biden administration released Russia’s notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been held in an American prison for 12 years.

Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed the swap, which took place in Abu Dhabi. “The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland,” it said in a statement.

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Who is Viktor Bout?

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout, born on January 13, 1967, used his multiple companies to smuggle weapons since the collapse of the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s

He was nicknamed the Merchant of Death and Sanctions Buster after Peter Hain of the British Foreign Office read a report to the United Nations in 2003 on his wide-reaching operations.

In a US sting operation, Bout was arrested on March 6, 2008, in Thailand on terrorism charges by the Royal Thai Police in cooperation with American authorities and Interpol.

The US Ambassador to Thailand Eric G. John requested his extradition under the Extradition Act with Thailand. Bout was accused of intending to smuggle arms to a US DEA informer pretending to represent the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for use against US forces in Colombia.

On November 2, 2011, Bout was convicted by a jury in a Manhattan federal court of conspiracy to kill US citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization. From June 2012 until December 2022, he was held at the United States Penitentiary, Marion.

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A documentary about Bout, The Notorious Mr. Bout, from Market Road Films and directed by Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

In 2007, Stephen Braun and Douglas Farah published a book about Bout, named Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible.