American Brittney Griner Released by Russia in Prisoner Swap for Arms Dealer Viktor Bout

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American basketball player Brittney Griner has been released by Russian authorities in a prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Griner, 32, was en route to the United States, President Joe Biden said on Dec. 8.

“She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home,” he told reporters at a briefing at the White House in Washington.

“This is a day we have worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release,” Biden added. “It took painstaking and intense negotiations and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”

Griner, a women’s basketball player who traveled to Russia to play for a team there, was arrested in February after customs officials found drugs in her luggage.

Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges while saying she had not meant to pack the canisters of cannabis oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in prison. She began serving time at a penal colony in Mordovia in November, her lawyers told news outlets.

Bout, 55, was serving a 25-year sentence. He was convicted in 2011.

Bout was working to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including 800 surface-to-air missiles and 30,000 AK-47s, to Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, a designated foreign terrorist group based on Colombia, to kill Americans there, prosecutors said.

“As the evidence at trial showed, Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” Preet Bharara, the then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement at the time. “He aimed to sell those weapons to terrorists for the purpose of killing Americans. With today’s swift verdict, justice has been done and a very dangerous man will be behind bars.”

By Zachary Stieber

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