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Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Death Merchant,” whose arms sales have fueled deadly conflicts around the world, could be sent back to his homeland in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and the marine. retired American Paul Whelan.
Russian officials have long pushed for the release of Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in US prison after being convicted in 2011 for conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to launch anti-aircraft missiles, and help an organization. terrorist.
He was caught in 2008 in a sting operation at a luxury hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where he met Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as officials from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been classified by US officials as narco- terrorist group.
Prosecutors said Bout was ready to supply the group with $ 20 million worth of “an arsenal of breathtaking weapons – including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles – 10 million ammunition and five tons of explosives to the plastic. “
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Bout, played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film “Lord of War,” has asserted his innocence, claiming to be a legitimate businessman.
Russian state news agency TASS originally reported in May that negotiations are underway to swap Bout with Griner.
Russian officials see Bout as a “high-value asset” and are likely pushing hard for the exchange, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Rebekah Koffler.
“Moscow wants him back because he has critical insights he can share with the GRU, his former agency. Having been in a US prison and questioned by US officials, he knows what our intelligence requirements and other valuable information for Russians are,” Koffler, the author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital.
“It would be a big mistake for the United States to give up Viktor Bout, as much as there is pity for Mrs. Griner and Mr. Whelan.”
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The Biden administration confirmed Wednesday that it had made a “substantive proposal” to help free Griner and Whelan.
“The US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue to make it happen and as part of these efforts we have made a substantial proposal to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home,” a spokesperson for the company told Fox News Wednesday. White House.
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Griner was arrested at a Russian airport in mid-February after police claimed they found cannabis oil in her bags. She pleaded guilty this month to a drug trafficking charge and she could face up to 10 years in prison, but she said her “intent” was not to violate Russian law.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on charges of spying, but he and his family claimed his innocence, while the US government called the charges false.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.