International arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Death Dealer,” revealed Friday what he told WNBA star Brittney Griner during the U.S.-Russia prisoner swap in December
The exchange between the two countries took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi.
Bout, 56, stepped off a plane and shook hands with one man, hugged another before appearing to look in Griner’s direction.
“I said, you know, ‘I wish you good luck, and, you know, and we both went to our, you know, planes,” Bout said TJ Quinn told ESPN exclusively.
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport for almost ten months on drug charges, while Bout has been in US custody since 2008.
Bout followed the timeline of Griner’s arrest in an Illinois prison, where he was serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill Americans – the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested him in Thailand.
Griner, 32, was arrested by Russian authorities in February 2022 after finding a cannabis vape cartridge in her luggage as she attempted to leave the country as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine.
The WNBA All-Star pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in July 2022 and was sentenced to nine years in a hard labor camp in Mordovia.
Bout was told he would be “going home” by a security guard on the day of the exchange.
Bout recalled that “at four in the morning, guards came with the boxes,” knocked on the door of his cell and told him to start packing his things, and he knew his hours in America were numbered.
“I realized, yeah, I’m going home,” Bout said.
The convicted arms dealer told the outlet he was “immediately shocked” when he saw the all-star baller without her “signature braids” after she cut them off to prevent her hair from freezing in the harsh Russian winter.
Bout noted that the WNBA center was significantly “bigger” than him as the deal began to unfold and said he briefly shook Griner’s hand before heading back to Russia, he told the point of sale.
Bout sympathized with Griner, saying they were both “pawns” of the politicians involved who were “playing chess on this big chessboard they call geopolitics.”
“I feel bad or sorry for any person who is used as a pawn, regardless of whether they have committed something or not,” he told the outlet.
“Advertising is kind of a multiplier that can really kill you if you’re not strong enough to handle it.”
President Joe Biden approved the deal after months of back-and-forth with the Kremlin and the White House over Griner’s release.
The swap was met with strong opposition from Americans who believed Bout posed a danger to the nation and the government did not include U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan in the swap.
Whelan is accused of spying for the USA and has been in prison in Russia since 2018.