Viktor Bout: Everything To Know about Arms Dealer Exchanged With Russia For Brittney Griner’s Release

The arms dealer was released back to Russia as a trade for the WNBA star's freedom. Find out everything you need to know about him.

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  • Viktor Bout is a Russian arms dealer.
  • He was arrested in 2008.
  • He was released in exchange for Brittney Griner, who was imprisoned in Russia on drug charges.

Viktor Bout was released back to Russia in a prisoner exchange deal for Brittney Griner on Thursday, December 8. President Joe Biden announced that the WNBA player, 32, would be returning home, and it was reported that the administration had negotiated her freedom in exchange for the arms dealer, 55, according to The Associated Press. The president announced that Brittney was on a plane returning to the United States, after being arrested on drug charges in February.

In a press conference announcing that Brittney had been released, Biden did not address that the U.S. had secured her freedom by exchanging Bout. Despite the trade, the president admitted that the administration was not able to secure another American Paul Whelan’s release from Russia. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently from Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will not give up,” he said. Find out everything you need to know about the arms dealer here.

Bout had been sentenced to 25 years in prison before his exchange. (ZUMAPRESS.com / MEGA)

Bout is an Arms Dealer, Nicknamed ‘The Merchant of Death’

Bout had long been a wanted arms dealer for illegally spreading guns all over the world. He would bring surplus weapons to countries in Africa, South America, and the Middle East. During his time as a dealer, he would use different aliases and passports to travel seamlessly. He was given his infamous nickname “The Merchant of Death” in 2003, by UK Foreign Minister Peter Hain, per BBCHe was also the subject of a 2007 book titled after his nickname.

He was in the Russian military and began illegally selling weapons in the 90s

Bout has denied that he was an arms dealer, and his now-defunct website revealed that he was a Lieutenant translator in the Soviet Union army, before he began selling weapons. It is believed that he began trading a surplus aircraft in Africa in 1993, after suggesting that he join the “active reserves,” according to The EconomistHe became well-known after reportedly working with now-convicted warlord Charles Taylor in arming revolutionaries.

Bout was released in exchange for Brittney Griner. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/Shutterstock)

He was arrested in 2008

After many years of traveling the globe and selling weapons, Bout was arrested in a sting operation by the U.S. in 2008. He was lured to a conference room in a Bangkok hotel to negotiate an arms deal with two people he believed to be from the Colombian insurgent group FARC, but were DEA operatives from the U.S.  He was arrested and tried in a Thai court and extradited to the States in 2010.

He was found guilty in the United States in 2011

When Bout was sent to the U.S., he was tried for conspiring to kill Americans as well as conspiring to use and anti-aircraft missile, wire fraud, money laundering, and the illegal purchase of an aircraft. He was found guilty in 2011, and the following year, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bout denied the crimes on his website. Prosecutors focused on his time supplying weapons to FARC, per CNN. “Viktor Bout has been international arms trafficking enemy number one for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts around the globe,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at the time. “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.”

Bout has been portrayed in movies and TV shows

Bout’s story, as well as depictions of his arrest, have popped up in various forms of media over the years. The documentary series Damian Lewis: Spy Wars and Manhunt: Kill or Capture both have episodes focusing on Bout. The  2005 film Lord of War was reportedly inspired by Bout. The movie starred Nicolas Cage playing an arms dealer who “confronts the morality of his work as he is being chased by an INTERPOL Agent,” according to IMDb.

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