The Pentagon is worried that Victor Booth, the Russian arms dealer who was released from prison Thursday in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, could return to the illegal arms trade, fueling deadly conflicts around the world.
“I think there’s concern that he’s going to go back to what he’s done in the past,” said a senior Defense Department official.
When Bout was released, he was about to serve a 25-year sentence in a US prison for several crimes, including conspiring to kill Americans. Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17 after Russian authorities said he had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage.
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After pleading guilty on August 4, he was sentenced to nine years in prison, saying he had prescribed cannabis for pain and unwittingly packaged it. His sentence was upheld in October, and he was later transferred to the colony.
A former Soviet military officer known as the “Merchant of Death,” Booth supplied weapons to dictators and conflicts around the world, sometimes to both sides.
“If I don’t do it, someone else will,” he told the New Yorker in 2012.
According to a 2010 Justice Department indictment, he operated a fleet of cargo planes that transported weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Many of the weapons he sold fueled civil wars in Africa. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is believed to have been a client.
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Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that “there is no equality in the world between people like the Brittney Griners and Victor Booth.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth, and we cannot ignore the fact that bringing Bout back into the world is a deeply troubling decision,” he said. “We must stop inviting dictators and rogue regimes to use Americans abroad as bargaining chips, and do better at encouraging American citizens to travel to places like Russia that are prime targets for illegal detention.”
Booth was arrested in 2008 as a result of an operation at a luxury hotel Bangkok, Thailandthere, he met with Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as officials from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is classified by US authorities as a narco-terrorist group.
Prosecutors said Booth was willing introduce the group With a $20 million “astounding 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.”
If Bout returns to the arms trade, especially in Africa, the US will warn its allies about the dangers of doing business with someone like him. Russia is also currently engaged in an invasion of Ukraine.
“If his network, and if that happens, we’re going to share some of the issues that we’re thinking about what illegal weapons or illegal weapons could mean for their ability to thrive and have stable government and security measures,” he said. defense official. said.