Brittney Griner Freed in Prisoner Swap for “Merchant of Death”

Following her arrest earlier this year, WNBA player Brittney Griner was freed on Thursday from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, an arms dealer who was also known by the moniker “Merchant of Death.”

Griner was initially arrested in February on drug smuggling charges at a Russian airport after cannabis was found in her possession. Griner challenged the charge, later testifying that she had accidentally packed the cannabis oil in her luggage. The basketball player was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August, and in November, she was moved to a penal colony after she lost her appeal.

Griner’s arrest garnered much media coverage, which brought attention to the case of Paul Whelan, an American businessman and former Marine who was arrested in 2018 for alleged espionage. Both the Griner and Whelan families petitioned for their releases, but prior to confirmation that Griner would be freed, the Whelan family was reportedly told in advance that Paul would not be part of the prisoner swap.

The WNBA player was swapped with Bout, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in America for multiple offences, including conspiring to kill Americans. Reports state that after the former Soviet military officer evaded international arrest warrants for years, he was apprehended by undercover US drug enforcement agents in 2008 in Thailand. Bout has maintained his innocence throughout his sentence, with Russian authorities describing his imprisonment as baseless and biased.