US basketball star Griner released from Russian custody in prisoner swap: Official

The swap involved former arms dealer Viktor Bout

By Agencies

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FILE. Photo: Reuters
FILE. Photo: Reuters

Published: Thu 8 Dec 2022, 5:21 PM

Last updated: Thu 8 Dec 2022, 6:58 PM

US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released in a prisoner swap with Russia and is now in US custody, President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

Moscow confirmed on Thursday it had exchanged Griner, who had been jailed in Russia, for arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

"On December 8, 2022, at the Abu Dhabi airport, the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner... was successfully completed," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United Arab Emirates facilitated Brittney Griner's release and he thanked the Emirates "for helping us facilitate Brittney's return, because that's where she landed" en route back to the United States. Biden said the basketball star would be back home within 24 hours.

"She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," Biden said in a tweet.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone with Griner from the Oval Office, a US official said, adding that the call included Griner's wife, Cherelle. The White House released a photo of the telephone call.

The wife of Brittney Griner she was "overwhelmed" after the basketball star was released.

"I'm just standing here, overwhelmed with emotions," Cherelle Griner said at the White House, standing alongside President Joe Biden. She described the ordeal of her wife's imprisonment as "one of the darkest moments of my life."

Griner, 32, a star of the Women's National Basketball Association's Phoenix Mercury, was arrested on Feb. 17. Talks to secure her release were complicated by Russia's Feb. 24 attack on Ukraine and the subsequent deep souring of ties between Washington and Moscow.

A two-time Olympic gold medallist, Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia, were found in her luggage.


She was sentenced on Aug. 4 to nine years in a penal colony on charges of possessing and smuggling drugs. She had pleaded guilty, but said she had made an "honest mistake" and had not meant to break the law.

Last month she was taken to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia to serve her prison sentence.

Variously dubbed "the merchant of death" and "the sanctions buster" for his ability to get around arms embargoes, Bout, 55, was one of the world’s most wanted men before his arrest.

For almost two decades, Bout became the world’s most notorious arms dealer, selling weaponry to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America. For experts on the Russian security services, Moscow's lasting interest in Bout hint strongly at Russian intelligence ties.

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