Russia hopeful of U.S. prisoner swap including Bout

LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Russia hopes it can broker a prisoner swap with the United States that would include Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.”

Amid the deadliest war in Europe since World War II, Russia and the United States are exploring a prisoner exchange that would see imprisoned Americans, including basketball star Brittney Griner, returned to the United States in exchange for Booth.

“I want to hope that the perspective will not only remain, but will be strengthened, and the moment will come when we will reach a concrete agreement,” said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Ryabkov, according to Interfax.

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“The Americans show some of the foreign activity, we work professionally through a special channel designed for this,” said Ryabkov. “Victor Booth is among those being discussed and we certainly hope for a positive outcome.”

For the two former Cold War foes, now fighting the most serious standoff since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the exchange would be one of the most unusual prisoner swaps in their history.

The possible replacements are Griner, who is serving nine years behind bars in Russia on drug charges, and Paul Whelan, who is serving 16 years in prison in Russia after being convicted of espionage charges he denies.

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Bout was one of the world’s most wanted men until his arrest in 2008 on numerous charges related to arms trafficking.

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For nearly two decades, Booth was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling weapons to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous militias in Africa, Asia and South America.

But in 2008, Bout fell prey to a sophisticated US sting.

Booth was filmed agreeing to sell US secret agents posing as representatives of Colombia’s leftist FARC guerrillas 100 surface-to-air missiles that they would use to kill US soldiers. Soon after, he was arrested by the Thai police.

Booth was tried on FARC-related charges, which he denied, and was sentenced in 2012 by a Manhattan jury to 25 years in prison, the minimum possible sentence.

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Since then, the Russian state wants to return him.

Griner has been transferred to a correctional facility about 500 km (300 miles) southeast of Moscow, his representatives said on Thursday, confirming a Reuters report.

At his trial, Griner, who played basketball for a US team in Russia one season, said he used cannabis to treat sports injuries but did not intend to break the law. He told the court that he made an honest mistake by packing the cartridges in his luggage.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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