Victor Bout, the notorious Russian gun dealer dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” was released from a U.S. prison Thursday in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Bout, 55, is a former Soviet military officer and translator who was serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to kill Americans, acquiring and export anti-aircraft missiles, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Bout claimed he was innocent, and the Kremlin repeatedly dismissed the U.S. prosecution as “baseless and biased.”
Bout, the son of a mechanic and a bookkeeper, drew a warm welcome from Russia on Thursday.
“As a result of the efforts made, we managed to agree with the American side to arrange an exchange of Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”
BRITTNEY GRINER RELEASEDfrom Russian prison as part of prisoner exchange for Viktor Bout
Bout released from penitentiary in Illinois
Bout had been held at the U.S. Penitentiary Marion, a medium security federal prison in Illinois. He was scheduled for release Aug. 19, 2029, according to federal Bureau of Prisons records.
“We can confirm, Viktor Anatoliy Bout is no longer in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons,” the agency said Thursday. “For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss any individual inmate’s conditions of confinement, to include transfers or release plans.”
Viktor Bout inspires role in ‘Lord of War’
Bout was the subject of a 2014 documentary “The Notorious Mr. Bout,” which chronicled his career as an arms smuggler, aviation businessman and amateur filmmaker. The film premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
Bout also inspired a role in the 2005 film “Lord of War.” Nicholas Cage plays international gun dealer Yuri Orlov, whose character is loosely based on Bout. The film drew a gloomy thumbs-up from Amnesty International.
‘The sad truth is that this film is largely based on facts,” said Brian Wood, then a researcher for Amnesty International. “Gunrunners really are able to fly and ship weapons into conflict zones where civilians are slaughtered. They can arm some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Yet the lack of legally-binding controls means that, like Nicolas Cage’s character, they can laugh in the face of the law.”
Russian arms dealer arrested in 2008
Bout, fluent in at least six languages, has been in custody since his 2008 arrest in Thailand. He was nabbed in a sting operation led by US drug enforcement agents in Thailand posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – a Marxist–Leninist guerrilla group that conducted an armed struggle against the Colombian government until 2017.
It took two years for his extradition to the U.S. to be approved.
‘Merchant of Death’ considered US a sworn enemy
In a recorded meeting, Bout declared to undercover agents that the United States was his sworn enemy. He offered to sell them, as part of an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to be used against U.S. military advisers and the Colombian military.
Bout claimed he operated legitimate businesses and provided transportation logistics for shipments of any products.
‘Enemy No. 1’ is brought to justice
Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012. In announcing the sentence, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, described Bout as “international arms trafficking enemy No. 1 for many years.” Bhara said Bout had armed some of the most violent conflicts around the world.
“He was finally brought to justice in an American court for agreeing to provide a staggering number of military-grade weapons to an avowed terrorist organization committed to killing Americans,” Bhara said.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson
Story Credit: usatoday.com