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Brittney Griner freed: What we know about her release from prison and swap for a Russian arms dealer

The American basketball player is on her way back to the US after a prisoner swap was completed with a notorious Russian arms dealer.

Update:
Brittney Griner freed: What we know about her release from prison and swap for a Russian arms dealer
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEVAFP

US basketball player Brittney Griner is finally returning from Russian prison after the US government negotiated an exchange with the Russian authorities.

Griner was convicted in a Russian court on drug charges after medical marijuana was found in her suitcase while travelling through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February. She was to serve her nine-and-a-half year sentence in a Russian penal colony of which she served one month.

Speaking in the White House, Griner’s wife Cherelle praised the efforts of the Biden administration in securing her release: “I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions.” The ordeal had been one of the darkest moments of her life, she added.

Griner has been swapped for arms dealer Viktor Bout. He had been jailed in the US for 12 years for selling weapons and was sensationally arrested in Bangkok in 2008. His nickname is the “Merchant of Death” and his life was the basis for the 2005 film Lord of War.

It has come out that details of the deal were known by CBS news a week ago but they agreed not to publish information in case the deal collapsed.

What about Paul Whelan?

Not included in the swap was retired marine Paul Whelan. He had previously been arrested on espionage charges but the US government was unable to secure his release at this time. Whelan’s family said they were pleased with the decision to free Griner.

“There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home.” David Whelan, Paul’s brother, said in a statement. “The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

“We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release,” said President Biden.