American basketball player Brittney Griner, convicted in Russia, exchanged for arms dealer Viktor Bout

8 December 2022, 08:05 PM
Brittney Griner (Photo:REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)

Brittney Griner (Photo:REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was convicted in Russia for drug smuggling, has been exchanged with the U.S. for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, CNN reported on Dec. 8.

According to the outlet, Griner has returned to the U.S., and Bout is likewise believed to have been returned to Russia.

The exchange did not include another American, Paul Whelan, whom the State Department declared illegally detained.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the swap took place at Abu Dhabi airport.

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Bout, nicknamed "Merchant of Death", is a former Soviet military officer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiracy to murder Americans, purchase and export of anti-aircraft missiles and providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, in August, a Russian court sentenced U.S. basketball player and two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner to nine years imprisonment on charges of “drug smuggling” and a fine of 1 million rubles ($15,945).

“Drug smuggling” is a commonly used charge in Russia to convict political undesirables, or gain leverage on hostages.

According to the Russian authorities, the WNBA star was detained in February 2022 at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after hash oil for vaping in cartridges weighing 0.702 grams was found in her bag.

Griner's lawyers maintained she used medical marijuana only on the recommendation of doctors in Arizona, where it is legal, due to severe pain from sports injuries, CNN writes. The basketball player said she had put the oil cartridges in her luggage by accident because she was leaving in a hurry. She partially admitted guilt and said she made a mistake, but did not intend to break any laws in Russia.

Griner played for the Phoenix Mercury team and the Russian club UMMC. She is included in the official list of the 25 best players of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

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