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Friday, December 9, 2022

Who is Viktor Bout, the arms dealer involved in the Brittney Griner prisoner exchange?

Who is Viktor Bout, the arms dealer involved in the prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner?


 MOSCOW: Viktor Bout, a former pilot in the Soviet air force who was traded on Thursday for US basketball star Brittney Griner, helped fuel some of the bloodiest conflicts in the world by trafficking weapons across multiple continents.

The 55-year-old Russian allegedly stoked violence by bartering deals for planes and guns from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan over a two-decade career that ended in 2012 when he was given a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

The moustachioed Bout, who is believed to be fluent in six languages, traveled under a variety of fictitious names, such as "Boris" and "Vadim Markovich Aminov."

His reputation enlivened the Hollywood film "Ruler of War", featuring Nicolas Enclosure, in which the wannabe got away from equity.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden discussed his fate at a summit in Geneva in 2021, expectations of a prisoner swap increased in recent months.

In what appeared to be the highest-level talks between Moscow and Washington since Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February, CIA Director William Burns met with Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia's SVR intelligence service, to discuss the Bout swap in Ankara last month.

Bout had been trading weapons despite sanctions from the United States and the United Nations until he was caught in a sting operation in 2008 that was worthy of a movie.

The Russian was negotiating with US agents posing as guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when he was detained at the five-star Sofitel hotel in Bangkok.

The drama of the case was heightened by his appearances at court in Thailand while donning a bulletproof vest and shackles and flanked by armed police commandos, as well as the frequently tearful responses of his wife, Alla Bout.

A Thai appeals court decided in 2010 that he could be extradited to the United States, where he was accused of running a "massive weapons-trafficking business" and committing terrorism. This decision came after a two-year legal battle.

After being flown out of Bangkok on a government jet shortly after the Thai cabinet approved his extradition, Bout finally stood trial in the United States.

A judge in the United States handed Bout a 25-year prison sentence in 2012 for arranging to sell a substantial arsenal to anti-American guerrillas in Colombia.

From the day he was arrested in Bangkok, Bout maintained his innocence, claiming that he had secretly agreed to supply surface-to-air missiles during a series of meetings that also took him to Denmark and Romania.

According to US prosecutors, he agreed to the sale knowing that the weapons would be used to attack US helicopters.

Peter Hain, a former minister in the British foreign office, referred to him as the "Merchant of Death," and Amnesty International claims that he once operated a fleet of more than 50 planes transporting weapons throughout Africa.

The arms he sold or arranged to buy fueled wars and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Sudan, according to US prosecutors.

But Bout insists that he has always operated a legitimate air cargo company and denies being associated with Al-Qaeda.

Russia was outraged by his detention, and it accused attempts to extradite him of being politically motivated.

Bout studied languages such as English, French, and Portuguese at Moscow's military institute for foreign languages prior to joining the air force. He was born in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, in 1967, while the country was still under Soviet rule.

Co-author of a book about Bout, journalist Douglas Farah, has referred to him as "a unique creature" who was born out of the fall of Communism and the rise of unrestrained capitalism in the early 1990s.

He has over and over denied ideas that he was a previous KGB specialist and that he purchased weaponry, airplane and helicopters at expendable rates at the fall of the Soviet Association to supply to struggle zones.

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