NEW YORK, December 9. /TASS/. The US Department of Justice opposed the release of US-convicted Russian citizen Viktor Bout, but eventually had to concede to President Joe Biden’s decision to swap him for US basketball player Brittney Griner, CNN said on Thursday citing sources familiar with discussions.
Bout was swapped for Griner earlier on Thursday. The US side initially insisted that Russia included Paul Whelan, convicted in Russia for espionage, into the swap alongside with Griner.
According to the CNN report, the US Department of Justice always opposed Bout’s release due to the severity of charges against him, including when his possible exchange was negotiated by Russian and US officials earlier this year. However, the US president has the final say in those matters, so justice officials had to concede to Biden’s decision.
Earlier on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Viktor Bout was returning to Russia as a result of an agreement with the US to exchange him for American basketball player Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner, a US basketball star, was arrested in Russia in February 2022 on charges of attempting to smuggle drugs into the country. She flew to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport from New York, where upon arrival, two cartridges with cannabis oil were found in her luggage during baggage inspection. According to an expert review, the substance was cannabis oil, which qualifies as a narcotic substance. The court sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony.
As a member of the United States national women’s team, Griner won gold medals at the 2014 and 2018 World Championships, as well as at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games. Before her arrest, she played for Russia’s Yekaterinburg professional basketball club.
Viktor Bout was detained in Thailand’s capital of Bangkok in 2008 under a warrant issued by a local court at the behest of the US. He was charged with illegally supplying weapons to a rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US. Bout was extradited to the United States two years later. In April 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in jail and slapped with a $15-million fine.