MOSCOW, December 8. /TASS/. Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who was sentenced to 25 years behind bars in the United States in 2012, has been exchanged for US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was serving a prison term in Russia for drug smuggling. The exchange took place at the airport of Abu Dhabi (UAE) on December 8, 2022. TASS has summarized the highlights of the Viktor Bout case.
Viktor Bout (born in 1967) - a graduate of the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, worked as an interpreter for military transport aviation from 1989-1991. In 1992, he left for South Africa, where he ran a venture providing air transport services. In 1995, he moved to Belgium, and in 1998, to the United Arab Emirates. Bout owned several air carriers.
In the mid-1990s there were media rumors that his business was involved in the illegal arms trade in countries that were subject to international sanctions. In 2000, Bout was mentioned in a UN Security Council report in connection with the supply of weapons and ammunition to Afghanistan, the countries that once constituted former Yugoslavia, and a number of African states in circumvention of sanctions. In 2002, he was included in a sanctions list compiled when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberia. The sanctions included a ban on movements and a freeze on bank accounts. Starting in 2002 he lived in Russia.
Arrest in Thailand and extradition to US
On March 6, 2008, Bout was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand on a warrant issued by a Thai court at the request of the US. In the United States, he was accused of intention to sell surface-to-air missiles to the Colombian left-wing radical rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia; recognized in the United States as terrorist in 1997-2021). On two occasions in 2009 and 2010 the Thai court rejected US requests for Bout's extradition due to a lack of evidence presented by the American side. The court interpreted the US extradition request as political persecution. In July 2010, 35 members of the US Congress urged Thailand’s prime minister to extradite Bout. On August 20 of the same year, Thailand’s Court of Appeal ordered his extradition; on November 16, Bout was taken to the United States. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that it was "an example of blatant judicial injustice" and that Moscow regarded extradition as the result of "unprecedented political pressure on the judiciary and the government of Thailand."
Trial and conviction
The US v. Bout case hearings began on October 11, 2011 in the Southern District Court of the State of New York (in New York City). Shira Scheindlin was the presiding judge. During the hearing, US secret services acknowledged that Bout's arrest was a result of a "sting operation." The participating informants were paid $850,000. Seven witnesses, including former business partner Andrew Smulyan, testified against Bout.
On November 2, 2011, the jury found Bout guilty on all four counts: conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to kill U.S. government officers and employees, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Bout pleaded not guilty to all charges. He argued that from 1992-2001 he owned a legal international air transportation venture, and that he went out of business in 2001. He believes that he fell victim to "years-long political persecution" in the United States, which followed his " refusal to cooperate with US secret services and was also a result of unfair competition by Western companies."
On February 8, 2012, a request from Bout's defense lawyers to overturn his guilty verdict and review the case was turned down. On April 5, 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $15 million (the estimated value of the rumored arms deal he had been charged with). In August 2012, Russia’s Justice Ministry sent a request to the US for Bout’s transfer to Russia to serve the prison term in his home country. The request was rejected.
In September 2013, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, thus dismissing an appeal from the convict. Bout argued that he was a victim of persecution for which there were no legal grounds. In October 2015, the court of first instance turned down a request for a retrial in light of newly discovered circumstances. The defense appealed this decision, but in November 2016 the Court of Appeals refused to review the case.
On February 21, 2017, Bout's defense filed a petition with the US Supreme Court for a review of his case. The defense argued that the prosecution had concealed certain evidence that might help exonerate the defendant. In March 2017, Russia presented its arguments in the case to the US Supreme Court for consideration. On April 3, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to consider the case again.
Conditions in prison
During the 14-month-long trial Bout was kept in a New York detention facility in solitary confinement in a special block for those accused of terrorism-related crimes and brutal violence. In February 2012, he was transferred to a normal security cell. In the summer of 2012, he was transferred to the medium-security Marion prison in Illinois, where he spent more than four years in a block under constant video surveillance. In October 2016, a motion was granted to transfer him to the general population. In January 2020, without explanation, he was transferred to a maximum security block.
In June 2022, Bout’s lawyer Steve Zissou said that Bout's health had noticeably deteriorated due to a bacterial infection, adding that the Federal Bureau of Prisons had done little to nothing to help. He clarified that initially the disease manifested itself several months earlier, but in the past few weeks it had worsened.