Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout offered a prisoner swap – Former Soviet military commander Viktor Bout is presently serving a 25-year term in the United States for planning to murder Americans, obtain and sell anti-aircraft missiles, and give material support to a terrorist group. Bout has asserted his innocence.
The Kremlin has long advocated for Bout’s release, describing his 2012 conviction as “arbitrary and unfair.”
The same day, Griner testified in a Russian court as part of her continuing drug prosecution after her detention at the Moscow airport in February. Whelan was arrested in 2018 on suspected espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in jail in a trial deemed unfair by US authorities.
Their relatives have pushed the White House to seek their release, if necessary via a prisoner swap. Now, Bout, a guy who evaded international arrest warrants and asset freezes for years, is at the heart of this effort.
The Russian businessman, who knows six languages, was apprehended in 2008 during a sting operation coordinated by US narcotics enforcement officers acting as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Thailand. He was ultimately extradited to the United States in 2010 following a lengthy judicial procedure.
“For many years, Viktor Bout has been the number one opponent in worldwide weapons trafficking, arming some of the world’s most horrific conflicts,” stated Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, after Bout was convicted in New York in 2012.
“He was eventually brought to justice in a U.S. court for agreeing to deliver an unfathomable quantity of military-grade weaponry to a terrorist group dedicated to murdering Americans.”
The prosecution focused on Bout’s involvement in providing weapons to FARC, a Colombian rebel organization that conducted an insurgency until 2016. The United States said that the weapons were designed to murder American civilians.
However, Bout’s experience in the armaments trade was considerably more extensive. Since the 1990s, he is accused of constructing a fleet of cargo jets to transport military-grade weaponry to conflict zones throughout the globe, fuelling violent wars from Liberia to Afghanistan. As a result of allegations of trafficking in Liberia, US officials froze his American assets in 2004 and prohibited any US transactions.
Bout has frequently asserted that he ran legal enterprises and served as a simple logistics supplier. Different passports and documentation cast doubt on his age, which is estimated to be in the fifties. Douglas Farah, a senior scholar at the International Assessment and Strategy Center and co-author of a book on Bout, told CNN in 2010: “His early years remain a mystery.”
Farah told Mother Jones magazine in 2007 that Bout was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the son of a bookkeeper and an auto technician, according to his various passports. According to him, Bout graduated from the Military Institute on Foreign Languages, a well-known training ground for Russian military intelligence.
“He was a Soviet officer, most likely a lieutenant, who simply saw the opportunities presented by three factors that came with the collapse of the USSR and the state sponsorship it entailed: abandoned aircraft on the runways from Moscow to Kiev, no longer able to fly due to lack of fuel and maintenance funds; huge stores of surplus weapons guarded by guards suddenly receiving little or no salary; and the booming demand for those weapons from traditonal enemies.”
According to Bout, he served as a military officer in Mozambique. Others have suggested that it was in fact Angola, where Russia had a significant military presence at the time, Farah told CNN. In the early to mid-1990s, when the United Nations started investigating him and the United States got engaged, he first came to public attention.
Bout, who purportedly used the aliases “Victor Anatoliyevich Bout,” “Victor But,” “Viktor Butt,” “Viktor Bulakin,” and “Vadim Markovich Aminov,” is said to have served as the model for Nicolas Cage’s weapons dealer character in the 2005 film “Lord of War.”
Jill Dougherty of CNN met with Bout in Moscow in 2002. She questioned him on claims made against him — did he supply weapons to the Taliban? To al Qaeda? Did he equip rebels in Africa and get payment in blood diamonds? He refuted all allegations.
He said, “It’s a bogus accusation and a falsehood.” “I’ve never handled a diamond in my life, I’m not a diamond expert, and I’m not interested in that industry.” “I have no fear,” he said Dougherty. “I have done nothing in my life to be terrified of.”
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