U.S. and Russian authorities completed a prisoner swap exchanging American basketball star Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer serving prison time in the U.S.
Viktor Bout, 55, is a Russian arms dealer who was sentenced in the U.S. in 2012 to 25 years in prison for conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorist organizations, and trading anti-aircraft missiles.
He was arrested in Thailand in 2008, and later extradited to the U.S.
Bout, who served in the Soviet military and speaks six languages, is accused of arming terrorist organizations with weaponry that was abandoned during the fall of the Soviet Union. His trial in the U.S. focused on the arms he traded to the Colombian guerrilla group FARC. In their 2007 biography of Bout, writers Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun alleged he sold arms to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Bout was dubbed the “merchant of death” by former British Foreign Office minister Peter Hain in 2003, who spoke about the allegations surrounding Bout’s arms deals during a session of the U.K parliament.
Bout has always maintained his innocence, and the Kremlin has previously called for his release back to Russia.
Bout was returned to Russia on Thursday as part of a prisoner swap with the United States. American authorities exchanged him for Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who was arrested at a Russian airport in February after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.
Discussions have been under way between Washington and Moscow for months, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed in July that America had offered a significant proposal to Russia in exchange for Griner’s release.