U.S. President Joe Biden has reportedly offered to release notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for WNBA player Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, who are interned in Russian prisons.
CNN reported on Wednesday that several sources within the Biden administration said the proposal, which was put on Biden’s desk, received his backing after he was briefed on the matter.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” said a senior administration official to CNN. “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” was the subject of the 2005 Nicolas Cage movie, Lord of War. He was convicted on terrorism charges in 2011 for trying to sell millions of dollars worth of missiles to the left-wing insurgency group, FARC, in Colombia. According to the Justice Department, the purpose of the weapons was to shoot down U.S. military helicopters in the area.
“Today, one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers is being held accountable for his sordid past,” said then-Attorney General Eric Holder back in November 2011. “Viktor Bout’s arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts have been a source of concern around the globe for decades. Today, he faces the prospect of life in prison for his efforts to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to terrorists for use in killing Americans.”
“As the evidence at trial showed, Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” said then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. “He aimed to sell those weapons to terrorists for the purpose of killing Americans. With today’s swift verdict, justice has been done and a very dangerous man will be behind bars. I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who investigated this case on three different continents and helped to bring Viktor Bout to justice.”
Griner was arrested in February on drug charges in Russia and pleaded guilty. She continues to deny that she broke the law. Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges in Russia.