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Who is Victor Booth, the mercenary tipped for the US-Russia prisoner swap?

The future of two American citizens detained in Russia may hinge on the release of a convicted Russian arms dealer, dubbed the “Death Merchant” by prosecutors, whose life story has already inspired a Hollywood movie.

Former Soviet officer Viktor Bout is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States on charges of killing Americans, acquiring and exporting anti-aircraft missiles, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Booth maintains his innocence.

The Kremlin has long called for Bout’s release, criticizing his 2012 conviction as “unfounded and biased”.

THE: CNN: The Biden administration has offered Booth a possible trade for basketball star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, sources said Wednesday.

On the same day, Griner testified in a Russian court as part of his trial on drug charges after his February arrest at a Moscow airport. Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial that US officials said was unfair.

Their families have asked the White House to secure their release, including through a prisoner exchange if necessary. Now at the heart of that proposal is Booth, a man who has evaded international arrest warrants and asset freezes for years.

The Russian businessman, who speaks six languages, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 during a police operation by US anti-narcotics agents posing as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC. Butt was eventually extradited to the US in 2010 after a lengthy court process.

“Victor Bout has for many years been enemy number one in the international arms trade, which has fueled some of the most violent conflicts around the world,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said when Bout was sentenced in New York in 2012.

“He was finally brought to justice in an American courtroom for providing massive amounts of military-grade weapons to a terrorist organization engaged in killing Americans.”

The trial highlighted Bout’s role in supplying weapons to the FARC. The US stated that the weapons were intended to kill American citizens.

American basketball player Brittney Griner during a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow / 26/07/2022 REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

But Booth’s history in the arms trade extends far beyond that. He is accused of amassing a fleet of cargo planes since the 1990s that transport military-grade weapons to conflict zones around the world, fueling bloody conflicts from Liberia to Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

Allegations of activities in Liberia led US authorities to freeze his assets in 2004 and block any US transactions.

Baut has repeatedly claimed that he operated legitimate businesses and acted merely as a logistics provider. Believed to be in his 50s, his age is in doubt due to various passports and documents.

“His early days are a mystery,” he said CNN: In 2010, Douglas Farah, a fellow at the International Center for Evaluation and Strategy and co-author of the book on Booth.

Farah told Mother Jones magazine in 2007 that, according to his multiple passports, Bout was born in Tajikistan in 1967, the son of an accountant and a mechanic. He said Booth graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, a renowned school for Russian military intelligence.

“He was a Soviet officer, probably a lieutenant, who simply saw the opportunities that arose after the collapse of the USSR. Butt used abandoned airplanes on Moscow airstrips that were unable to fly due to lack of fuel or maintenance money. huge stockpiles of weapons; and the growing demand for those weapons from traditional Soviet clients and emerging armed groups from Africa to the Philippines,” Farah told the magazine.

Booth said he served as a military officer in Mozambique. Others said it was actually Angola, where Russia had a large military presence at the time, Farah said. CNN:. He came to prominence when the United Nations began investigating him in the early 1990s with the help of the United States.

Butt, who allegedly used the names “Victor Anatolyevich Butt”, “Victor Butt”, “Victor Butt”, “Victor Bulakin” and “Vadim Markovich Aminov”, is believed to have been the inspiration for the character of the arms dealer. played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of the Rings.

in 2002 to Jill Dougherty CNN:, met with Bout in Moscow and questioned him about various allegations against him, such as selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and dealing with insurgents in Africa. Booth has denied all allegations.

“It is a false claim and it is a lie,” he said. “I’m not afraid. I haven’t done anything in my life to be afraid of.”

This content was originally created in English.

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