Everything to Know About Viktor Bout, the Russian Arms Dealer Involved in the Brittney Griner Swap

Russia's Viktor Bout was exchanged with U.S.'s Brittney Griner in a one-for-one prisoner swap on Dec. 8 after President Joe Biden signed off on the deal

Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner

Viktor Bout is leaving the United States.

After spending nearly 10 months in custody, U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner was released from Russian jail in exchange for the Russian arms dealer in a one-for-one prisoner swap on Dec. 8.

President Joe Biden signed off on the trade, which took place in the United Arab Emirates at Abu Dhabi airport. Griner, who was sentenced in August to 9 years in a Russian prison on charges of smuggling drugs into the country, landed in the U.S. Friday, with her first destination set to be the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas for treatement.

Bout's return to Russia signifies one of the most high-profile prisoner swaps between Moscow and Washington since the Cold War.

"The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a post about Bout's release on Telegram. "

Vladimir Putin has been pursuing Bout's release since Bout was arrested in the U.S. in 2012.

Bout's U.S. lawyer Steve Zissou said in a statement that Putin "never gave up on him during the fifteen years of his wrongful incarceration, just as President Biden and the U.S. State Department never gave up on Ms. Griner."

Find out what Bout has been incarcerated for, what's next for him and more below.

Who is Viktor Bout and what crimes did he commit?

Accused Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand in March 2008, is talking to his wife, Alla Bout, from a cell at the Bangkok criminal court.
Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty

Notoriously known by various nicknames like "the merchant of death" and "the sanctions buster," Bout was one of the world's most wanted men prior to his arrest in 2008. He earned those titles due to his ability to get around arms embargoes, leading to his running a decade-long, international arms-trafficking network.

According to a U.S. Treasury report cited in the Wall Street Journal, Bout had a reputation in the smuggling world for "being able to deliver anything, anywhere, anytime" — fueling wars from Africa to the Balkans to Asia.

U.S. prosecutors have deemed him one of "the world's most successful and sophisticated arms traffickers," and former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara said he armed "some of the most violent conflicts around the globe."

Bout, a former Soviet military officer, is from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan; details on his early life before he gained notoriety for his arms dealing are murky.

Several books have been written in an attempt to nail down some details about Bout, including 2007's Merchant of Death co-authored by respected journalists Stephen Braun and Douglas Farah. Reportedly Bout's life inspired the 2005 crime drama, Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage.

How was Viktor Bout caught?

In this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout (C) deplanes after arriving at Westchester County Airport November 16, 2010 in White Plains, New York.
U.S. Department of Justice via Getty

Bout was caught and arrested in 2008 after an elaborate sting operation that was enacted when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration tracked his travels across several countries to a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

There, undercover U.S. agents posed as representatives of Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas. Bout was caught on camera agreeing to sell them 100 surface-to-air missiles which they would use to kill U.S. troops. Soon after, he was arrested by Thai police.

More than two years later, Bout was extradited to the United States where he stood trial on terrorism charges. Throughout his trial, Russia — as well as Bout — insisted that he was innocent and claimed his case was politically charged, reported Reuters.

What was Viktor Bout charged with?

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death" for his role arming rebels from Africa to South America, waits at the Thai police headquarters prior to meeting the media in Bangkok on March 7, 2008.

The indictment charged Bout with four separate terrorism offenses upon being extradited to the Southern District of New York from Thailand. The Office of Public Affairs detailed them in a statement issued in November 2010.

They included conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees, conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

"For more than a decade, Mr. Bout is alleged to have plied a deadly trade in surface-to-air missiles, land mines, bullets, death and destruction," said Michele M. Leonhart, Acting Administrator of the DEA in the statement.

It continued, "Fortunately, with his arrest, extradition, and pending prosecution... his last alleged attempt to deal in death means that he will finally face justice."

Throughout his trial, Bout maintained his innocence, saying he was a businessman just looking to sell planes.

What was Viktor Bout sentenced with?

Russian arm dealer Viktor Bout looks from behind bars at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on October 10, 2008.

Prior to the trial, Bout was looking at a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of all counts. In 2011, a U.S. jury found him guilty of conspiracy to kill Americans and US officials, delivering anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.

In 2012, Bout was sentenced to the minimum 25 years behind bars and was sent to serve his sentence in a medium-security facility in Marion, Illinois.

Where is Viktor Bout now?

Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner

After serving 11 years of his 25-year sentence in the United States, Bout was released in a one-for-one prisoner swap with WNBA's Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on drug smuggling charges in August.

On Dec. 8, the day the trade went down, Bout returned to Russia. Bout's mother, Raisa, thanked President Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Ministry for freeing her son, Tass (a Russian News Agency) reported, per the WSJ.

"They simply woke me up and told me to gather my belongings," Bout said on Russian TV, referring to U.S. prison officials. "They didn't provide any special information but I understood the situation that was unfolding."

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