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05 February, 2023
 
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Britney Griner swapped for Russian arms dealer

The WNBA star has been released in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout

Source: CNN

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian detention in a prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Griner is now in the custody of American officials, a US official told CNN.

President Joe Biden is expected to speak at 8:30 a.m. ET, the White House said, though it did not immediately specify the topic.

The swap did not include another American that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.

Both the Griner and Whelan families have been informed of Griner’s release, the source familiar with the matter said.

Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” is a former Soviet military officer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. Moscow had slammed his sentencing in 2012 as “baseless and biased” and Bout has maintained he is innocent.

Griner – who, for years, had played in the off-season for a Russian women’s basketball team – had been detained since February, when she was arrested on drug smuggling charges at an airport in the Moscow region. Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil that was found in her luggage, she was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia republic in mid-November after losing her appeal.

Whelan, a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges he has vehemently denied. Whelan had been carrying out his sentence at a different labor camp in Mordovia, an eight-hour drive from Moscow, where he told CNN in June 2021 he spent his days working in a clothing factory that he called a “sweatshop.”

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