Real-life Lord of War who inspired Nic Cage film offered in prison exchange for Brittney Griner: Report
The Russian arms dealer who inspired Nicolas Cage's character in 2005's Lord of War has reportedly been offered in a prisoner exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who's been locked up in Russia since Feb. 17.
According to multiple reports, the Biden administration is willing to swap infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., to free both Griner and Paul Whelan, another American detained there on suspicions of spying.
Sources told CNN that President Joe Biden supports the plan despite pushback from the Department of Justice, which usually opposes prisoner trades, according to the outlet.
Russian authorities detained Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, when she arrived at an airport near Moscow on her way to Yekaterinburg, where she's played basketball during the WNBA offseason since 2014. She's accused of having two vape cartridges of hashish oil in her luggage and faces a possible 10-year sentence.
Griner pleaded guilty in early July but said she brought the cannabis into Russia unintentionally. On Wednesday, she testified as part of her ongoing trial, saying she was detained after a 13-hour flight, soon after recovering from COVID, and was interrogated without understanding the language, according to The New York Times. The outlet also reports that her trial will have to conclude before a deal for her exchange can be finalized.
Central to that exchange could be the man formerly known by nicknames like the "Merchant of Death" and the "Lord of War," the latter of which served as the title for the Cage movie loosely inspired by his life. Following the fall of the USSR, Bout reinvented himself as an international arms dealer, using his air charter business to smuggle weapons and blood diamonds to various conflict zones. He's said to have supplied Liberia's Charles Taylor, warlords in the Congo, and the Taliban. According to Mother Jones, journalists Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun reported in their book on Bout, Merchant of Death, that he's also worked in the shadows for the U.S. military and U.S. contractors in Iraq.
After evading authorities for years, Bout was eventually arrested in Thaliand in 2008 based on an Interpol red notice requested by the United States. He was described in an Interpol release at the time as the world's largest arms dealer. After being extradited to the U.S., he was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization. Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but has denied the allegations against him.
Shortly after Lord of War was released, human rights group Amnesty International praised and endorsed the film for putting a spotlight on the global arms trafficking industry, as represented by Cage's character, Yuri Orlov.
"Unfortunately, this film closely depicts real life," Cage said as part of an educational guide to the film from Amnesty International. "Perpetrators of unimaginable crimes continue to receive high-powered assault rifles and shoulder-fired missiles from arms brokers and their governmental accomplices. Few restrictions are there to stop them."
Cage added, "In the film, Interpol Agent Jack Valentine, played by Ethan Hawke, lays it on the line to Yuri: 'You get rich by giving the poorest people on the planet the means to continue killing each other.' The lack of controls regulating arms brokers and the global trade has helped facilitate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children each year. Countless others are tortured, maimed, or forced to flee their homes."
If Bout is exchanged for Griner, he will walk free after having served less than half of his sentence.