Shortly after being convicted in 2011 of charges including conspiracy to kill an American citizen, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout sent back a message of defiance through his attorney, even though he faced the prospect of spending decades in prison.
Mr. Bout, his lawyer speak“Believe this is not the end.”
More than a decade later, Mr. Bout, 55, may be on the verge of a fresh start, even though he has served less than half of his 25-year prison sentence.
United States, trying to negotiate the release of two Americans imprisoned in Russia – basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine, Paul Whelan – proposed in June to exchange them for Mr Bout, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.
Russian officials have been pressing Bout to return since he was convicted by a New York jury in 2011 on four counts including plotting to kill an American citizen. Prosecutors said he agreed to sell anti-aircraft weapons to drug enforcement informants, who posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
The attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, called Mr Bout (pronounced “Boot”) “one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers”. Mr. Bout became infamous among US intelligence officials, earning the nickname “The Merchant of Death” as he evaded capture for years. His feat helped inspire the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” which starred Nicolas Cage as a character created after Mr. Bout.
Now, he is perhaps the tallest Russian in U.S. custody and the prisoner Russia has lobbied most vigorously for his return. If he is returned to Russia, it is likely to rekindle debate about the wisdom of engaging in prisoner exchanges for Americans whom the United States considers “wrongfully detained” – as was the case with Mr. Mrs. Griner and Mr. Whelan.
In interviews with journalists, Mr. Bout has many times negative Allegedly that he worked for the Russian intelligence agency. But Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security services, said there were strong indications – Mr Bout’s education, his social and professional networks and logistical skills – that he was a member of, or at least closely associated with, the Russian military. intelligence agency, known as GRU
“That is also the position of the authorities in the US and other countries – and it explains why Russia is so,” said Mr. Galeotti, a lecturer on Russia and transnational crime at University College London. campaigned vigorously to bring him back. “All countries are trying to get their citizens out of the rough jurisdictions, but it is clear that it is a particular priority for the Russians to win back Viktor Bout.”