Russia frees basketball star Griner in prisoner swap for 'Merchant of Death' arms dealer

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Brittney Griner has been freed from a Russian jail in a prisoner swap by the US. In exchange for the basketball star’s release, the US has freed arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested after a DEA sting in Thailand in 2008.

President Joe Biden has confirmed Ms Griner has been released, saying on Twitter: “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.

“She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by Mr Biden within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal.

The WNBA player was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil, and was sent to a penal colony in November.

A White House official said the President spoke to Ms Griner by phone in the Oval Office, where Mr Biden was joined by Cherelle Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

As is standard procedure for freed US prisoners, Ms Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation. 

Mr Bout, dubbed the “merchant of death”, sold arms to warlords and rogue governments, becoming one of the world’s most wanted men.

After being arrested at a hotel in Bangkok in 2008, he was extradited to the US in 2010 and has been in jail since.

The prisoner swap leaves retired US Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in custody for nearly four years, imprisoned in Russia.

In 2020, Mr Whelan was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a Russian court.

The US Ambassador to Russia has ridiculed the verdict as a “mockery of justice”.

Mr Biden said on Thursday the US has “not forgotten about Paul Whelan”, and “will never give up” on securing his release.



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