‘Merchant of Death’: The arms dealer the US gave up to free Brittney Griner

Even the former federal judge who sentenced him in 2011 thought his 11 years behind bars was an appropriate sentence.

“He’s had enough time for what he’s done in this case,” Shira Scheindlin said in July as prospects for his release appeared to be rising.


Griner, who was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after cannabis oil vape canisters were found in her luggage, was sentenced to nine years in prison in August. Washington protested her sentence as disproportionate, and some observers suggested it would be a bad deal to trade an arms dealer for someone imprisoned for a small amount of drugs.

Bout was convicted of terrorism in 2011. Prosecutors said he was willing to sell $20 million worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles to shoot down US helicopters. When they made the claim at his sentencing in 2012, Bout shouted, “It’s a lie!”

Bout has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and described himself as a legitimate businessman who did not sell weapons.

Bout’s case fits well with Moscow’s narrative that Washington was trying to capture and suppress innocent Russians on flimsy grounds.

Brittney Griner is on a plane as she flies to Abu Dhabi to be exchanged in Russia for Russian national Viktor Bout on Friday.Credit:Russian Federal Security Service via AP

“From the much-discussed Bout case, a real ‘hunt’ by Americans for Russian citizens around the world has started,” wrote the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta last year.

Russia increasingly referred to its case as a human rights issue. His wife and lawyer claimed his health was deteriorating in the harsh prison environment, where foreigners don’t always qualify for breaks that Americans might get.

Bout would not be released until 2029. He was held in a medium-security facility in Marion, Illinois.

“He got a hard deal,” said Scheindlin, the retired judge, who noted that the US sting agents “put words in their mouths” so he would say he knew Americans could die from guns he sold to fight terrorism. -demand improvement that would compel a long prison sentence, if not a life sentence.

Scheindlin gave Bout the mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years, but said she only did so because it was necessary.

At the time, his lawyer claimed that the US was revengefully targeting Bout because it was embarrassed that his companies helped supply supplies to US military contractors involved in the Iraq war.

The deliveries took place despite United Nations sanctions imposed on Bout since 2001 over his reputation as a notorious illegal arms dealer.

Prosecutors had urged Scheindlin to impose a life sentence, saying that if Bout was right to call himself nothing more than a businessman, “he was a businessman of the most dangerous order.”

Bout was estimated to be worth about $6 billion ($8.8 billion) in March 2008 when he was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand. U.S. authorities tricked him into leaving Russia for what he thought was a meeting over a business deal to ship what prosecutors described as “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds.” . ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives.”

He was taken into custody at a luxury hotel in Bangkok after talking to Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as officials of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC. The group was classified by Washington as a narco-terrorist group.

He was brought to the US in November 2010.

The nickname “Merchant of Death” was bestowed on Bout by a senior minister in the British Foreign Office. The nickname was included in the US government’s indictment against Bout.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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