Women’s National Basketball Association star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia days before the invasion of Ukraine and Russian media are reporting that she could be brought home in a prisoner swap with a notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Griner has been held in Russia since Feb. 17, when she was arrested at a Moscow airport for carrying vape cartridges alleged to contain hashish oil. Cannabis is strictly illegal in Russia. Griner, 31, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, Insider reported.
A seven-time WNBA All-Star center who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, Griner was overseas during the WNBA’s off-season to earn money playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian women’s basketball team that competes in the Russian Premier League.
“If wnba players were paid adequately or anywhere near nba players in America, #BrittneyGriner wouldn’t even need to be going to Russia and end up being arrested for no damn vape!! Let’s talk about it!!” celly cimone tweeted.
Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” was sentenced to 25 years in the U.S.
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Russia may be willing to trade Griner for Bout, the Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S.where he was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years for conspiracy to smuggle weapons to rebels in Colombia to be used against U.S. officials and citizens. He was dubbed the “Merchant of Death” because of risky dealings running a fleet of aging Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict-ridden hotspots in Africa, Fox 10 Phoenix reported.
His exploits inspired the Nicolas Cage film, “Lord of War.”
The Biden administration’s “potential decision to exchange this heinous Russian criminal, who is serving jail time in the U.S. for being involved in killing Americans, is a huge mistake,” former U.S. intelligence officer Rebekah Koffler told Fox News Digital. “This move will only encourage the Russian intelligence services to grab Americans on Russian soil, so they can be exchanged for much more valuable assets for Putin.”
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Russia has long lobbied for Bout’s return, and some reports have suggested that Russia wants him returned because he has links to high-profile Russian officials and intelligence agencies.
At a May 13 hearing in Russia, Griner’s detention was extended by at least a month. The U.S. maintains that she is being wrongfully detained.
Until the news of this hearing, there has been little movement on her case.
In late April, Russia released former Marine Trevor Reed, a U.S. citizen who had been held in the country for 985 days in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted by the U.S. of smuggling drugs.
Photo: Suspected Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout arrives at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File)/Photo: Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner plays in the WNBA finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)