Nicolas Cage's 2005 movie "Lord of War" features a character loosely based upon Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer. He evades the American law enforcement authorities and is apparently saved by the CIA.
In real life, however, the U.S. government organized an elaborate operation to capture and prosecute Bout in 2008. This was because Bout was believed to have been one of the largest illicit arms dealers in the world.
His U.S. lawyer now says that Moscow wants him to be exchanged for an American in Russia. This could be Brittney Griner (basketball star) who is currently on trial on drug-related charges and could face a lengthy prison sentence.
Steve Zissou representing Bout said, "It really doesn't seem complicated."
A debate has erupted over whether the U.S. should allow blackmail to take place, considering the differences between Bout's case and Griner's. Griner was unlawfully convicted of serious offenses and Griner is facing a Russian justice system that favors the corrupt and Griner is considered a hostage by U.S. officials. Zissou believes it's possible that Paul Whelan (who has been in Russia since 2018 on what his relatives call bogus spying accusations) could be part of the deal.
Michael McFaul, an ex-ambassador of the United States to Russia, stated that "I would accept that trade." Bout could be released in five years under federal sentencing guidelines.
Bout, 55 years old, was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years federal prison. He was convicted for selling arms to Colombian rebels. Prosecutors claimed the arms were meant to kill Americans. Since then, the Russian government has demanded his release, claiming that he was unfairly targeted.
Attorney General Eric Holder referred to Bout as "one of the most prolific arms dealers in the world," while Preet Bharara (the U.S. attorney) in Manhattan, New York said that he was "international arms trafficking enemy number 1 for many years, arming the most violent conflicts across the globe." Amnesty International claims that he sold arms in order to sanction human rights violators in Angola and Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bout, a former Soviet officer who was made rich by selling arms, has always maintained that he is innocent.
Experts don't know why Moscow would want him back. Some U.S. officials claimed that he was connected to Russian intelligence.
Russian state news agency Tass reported that talks were ongoing between the U.S.S.A. and Russia regarding exchanging Bout For Griner in May. However, no official from the U.S. has confirmed this.
After years of U.S. chases, the Drug Enforcement Administration captured Bout in a sophisticated sting. Agents posed as Colombian rebels, whom the U.S. had declared a terrorist group. According to a 2012 article in The New Yorker, Bout stated that "Gringos were enemies" after they had agreed to a large weapons deal in Bangkok. "It's not business to me -- it's my fight."
Moments later, armed agents broke through the door to arrest him.
Zissou claims that the whole operation was unfair because Bout had retired and been living in Moscow.
Shira Scheindlin (U.S. District Judge) agreed to the case.