Russian Citizen Viktor Bout is Returning Home After Being Swapped for US Athlete Griner
13:16 GMT 08.12.2022 (Updated: 21:50 GMT 08.12.2022)
MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Russian citizen Viktor Bout was returned to his homeland as a result of an exchange for US citizen Brittney Griner, the Russian Foreign Ministry told reporters.
"On December 8, 2022, the procedure for the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner, who were serving sentences in correctional institutions of the United States of America and the Russian Federation, respectively, was successfully completed at the Abu Dhabi airport," the foreign ministry said.
Early on Friday morning, the plane carrying Bout was reported to have landed at Moscow's Vnukovo-2 airport, according to Russian media.
Commenting on Bout's release, his lawyer Alexey Tarasov said it was "a wonderful moment" for the businessman and his family.
"It is a one-for-one exchange. In other words it is only Viktor who was exchanged for Griner. It is the difference from what the US initially thought, which was a two-for-one exchange," Tarasov added.
Asked about Bout’s health condition, the lawyer noted that it would be evaluated by doctors in Russia.
Despite lengthy Russia-US negotiations, "Washington categorically refused to engage in a dialogue on including the Russian in the exchange scheme," the ministry added, explaining that "nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot."
"As a result of the efforts made, it was possible to agree with the US side on organizing the exchange of Bout for Griner. The Russian citizen was returned to his homeland," the ministry concluded.
Bout was arrested in 2008 in Thailand on terrorism charges accused by the United States of smuggling weapons. According to US authorities, Bout supplied weapons to multiple armed groups worldwide. Despite protests from the Russian side calling such a move illegal, he was later extradited to the US, where an American court sentenced him to 25 years of imprisonment in 2012 on charges of weapons trafficking and other crimes. Bout strongly denied the charges, with Moscow also maintaining his innocence and calling Bout's arrest a "kidnapping" of a foreign national by Washington.
In the meantime, US President Joe Biden said that Brittney Griner is safe, adding that she would be back on US soil in 24 hours.
"Through multiple engagements the Russians made clear that the only route to securing Brittney’s return was the release of the Russian national Viktor Bout," a White House official told the press.
WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was swapped for Bout, was detained in Moscow in February 2022. Customs officers in Sheremetyevo airport discovered two electronic vaporizers filled with cannabis oil in her luggage
. Griner said she was aware that possession of drugs is banned in Russia, adding that she did not intend to break the law.
She was sentenced to nine years in prison and a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,576) in August.