Russian arms dealer Viktor Anatolyevich Bout imprisoned in the US, who was exchanged by the US for American basketball player Brittney Griner, imprisoned in Russia, is known abroad as the "The merchant of death" who has fueled some of the world's worst conflicts.
In Russia, however, he is seen as a businessman who was unjustly imprisoned during an "overly aggressive US surprise operation" of arrests. Nicolas Cage plays him in the 2005 film Lord of War, which was inspired by Bhutto, a former Soviet air force officer who rose to fame allegedly supplying weapons to civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.
Among his "clients" were Charles Taylor of Liberia, longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and both sides in the Angolan civil war.
"The merchant of death"
The United States of America and Russia exchanged prisoners yesterday - basketball star Griner and Russian arms dealer Bout.
For years, Russia has demanded that the US release Bout (55), who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of terrorism. Prosecutors then said he was willing to sell weapons for $20 million, including surface-to-air missiles to shoot down US helicopters, and when they brought this up at his sentencing in 2012, Bout exclaimed: "That's a lie!".
Bout has consistently maintained his innocence, describing himself as a legitimate businessman who did not sell weapons. Russia has presented his case as a human rights issue, and his wife and lawyer claim that his health deteriorated in a harsh prison regime where foreigners do not have the same rights as Americans.
Bout was not supposed to be released until 2029 at the earliest. His defense attorney argued that the US was sympathetic to Bout because it was uncomfortable with his companies helping to supply weapons even to US military contractors who participated in the Iraq war, despite United Nations sanctions imposed against Bhutto in 2001 for his reputation as a notorious illegal arms dealer.
Bout was estimated to be worth six billion dollars in assets in March 2008 when he was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand. US authorities tricked him into leaving Russia for what he thought was a meeting about a business deal to deliver what prosecutors described as "a breathtaking arsenal of weapons - including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles - 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives".
He was taken into custody at a luxury hotel in Bangkok after speaking with informants in a US arrest operation posing as officials of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Washington has classified as a narco-terrorist group.
A senior British Foreign Office minister attached to Bout the nickname "The merchant of death" that was included in the US government's indictment against him.