Who is Victor Booth, the Russian ‘merchant of death’ released in a prisoner swap for Britney Griner?

A senior administration official told Fox News Thursday that WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from a Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Death Merchant.”

Reports earlier this year suggested that Booth Griner, whose arms trade has sparked deadly conflicts around the world, and Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, could be traded.

But Whelan does not appear to have been part of the exchange, despite the State Department’s claim that he was wrongfully detained.

The former Marine was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Russian authorities have long demanded the release of Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in 2011 for killing Americans, supplying anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.

He was arrested in 2008 during a sting operation at a luxury hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where he met with Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) officials, classified as narcotics by U.S. officials. . terrorist group.

Victor Booth, a Russian arms dealer, walks past makeshift cameras ahead of his trial at the Bangkok Criminal Court.
(Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)

Prosecutors said Booth was willing to provide the group with an astonishing $20 million 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. “


Booth, who played Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of War, has maintained his innocence, claiming he is a legitimate businessman.

Russian state news agency TASS first reported in May that talks were underway to replace Bout with Griner.

Suspected Russian arms dealer Victor Booth is escorted by police as he arrives for a hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok.

Suspected Russian arms dealer Victor Booth is escorted by police as he arrives for a hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok.
(Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Rebekah Koffler, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official, Russian officials consider Bout a “high-value asset” and are likely to be eager for a swap.

“Moscow wants him back because he has critical views that can be shared with his former agency, the GRU. After being in a US prison and being questioned by US officials, he is our intelligence knows our demands and other information valuable to the Russians.” Koffler, author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America.”

“It would be a huge mistake for the United States to give up Victor Booth, because it shows mercy to Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan.”


The Biden administration confirmed Wednesday that it had made a “substantial offer” to help free Griner and Whelan.

“The U.S. government continues to work aggressively to find every way possible to make this happen, and as part of that effort, we have made an important offer to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home,” a White House spokesman said. to Fox News on Wednesday.

Griner was arrested at a Russian airport in mid-February after police said cannabis oil was found in his bags. This month, he pleaded guilty to drug smuggling and faces up to 10 years in prison, but said it was not his “intention” to break Russian law.

Whelan was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison for espionage, but he and his family maintain his innocence, and the US government has called the charges false.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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