The lawyer for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout said Monday he was “confident” the U.S. and Russia will work out a deal to swap his client for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan and that it would be a fair trade.
Steve Zissou, Bout’s New York-based lawyer attorney also does not appreciate the nickname his client has been carrying around for years: “Merchant of Death.”
Although Zissou told CNN that he was confident the proposed prisoner swap was going to happen.
“Look, it’s no secret, they’ve been wanting him [Bout] back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades. That’s not something they’ve ever kept secret,” Zissou said in an interview with CNN's John Avalon on "New Day."
Who Is Viktor Bout?
Bout, once among the world’s most wanted men, was the fictional inspiration for the 2005 movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage as well as the subject of a 2007 biography "Merchant of Death: Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible" by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun. Hence the nickname, one can presume.
Bout's clients included rebel groups and militias from Congo, to Angola and Liberia. In Afghanistan, he sold guns to Islamist Taliban insurgents as well as to the pro-Western Northern Alliance, according to "Merchant of Death." Bout, now 55, apparently regarded business above politics and was known for his ability to get around arms embargoes.
American agencies hunted him down for years until they finally grabbed in Bangkok in 2008 and extradited him in 2010 where he's been serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Nevertheless, Zissou sees no reason to label his client.
“At the time the US government targeted Victor Bout back in 2005, 2006, he was retired, living in Moscow, no longer in the transportation business,” Zissou told Avalon.
“‘Transportation business,’ that’s your story?” Avalon shot back. “I mean, he’s an arms dealer, correct?”
“He transports a lot of things. He transported for the US government, as a matter of fact, back in the 2000s,” Zissou insisted.
“It’s no worse than this ‘Merchant of Death’ moniker that you folks in the media have continued to use on him. It’s really not so," Zissou said. "Frankly, in this country, we have more arms dealers who contribute to mass violence and mass killings in this country and are responsible for more deaths in the US than Viktor Bout ever was.”
Zissou criticized what he called Washington's “megaphone diplomacy.”
Prisoner swaps are typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes, but this one seems to be taking place in the press.
Some veteran hostage negotiators have called the Biden administration’s modus operandi, in this case, perplexing.
“It is baffling why the U.S. would announce this proposal in the midst of the negotiations,” said Rob Saale, former head of the FBI's Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
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