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Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” whose weapons sales fueled deadly conflicts around the world, could be sent back to his motherland in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
Russian officials have long pushed for the release of Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in U.S. prison after being convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and aiding a terrorist organization.
He was nabbed in 2008 in a sting operation at a luxury hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where he met with Drug Enforcement Administration informants who were posing as officials with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been classified by US officials as a narco-terrorist group.
Prosecutors said that Bout was prepared to provide the group with $20 million worth of “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives.”
Bout, who was played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie “Lord of War,” has maintained his innocence, claiming that he is a legitimate businessman.
The Russian state-owned news agency TASS originally reported in May that talks are underway to exchange Bout for Griner.
Russian officials see Bout as a “high-value asset” and are likely pushing hard for the exchange, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Rebekah Koffler.
“Moscow wants him back because he possesses critical insights that he can share with the GRU, his former agency. Having been in a U.S. prison and interrogated by U.S. officials, he knows what our intelligence requirements are and other information that is valuable for the Russians,” Koffler, the author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital.
“It would be a big mistake for the U.S. to give up Viktor Bout, as much as one feels compassion for Ms….