Viktor Bout, a Russian national who was convicted and imprisoned in the U.S. for arms trafficking and who was recently returned to Russia in exchange for WNBA player Brittney Griner, revealed what he allegedly told Griner during their prisoner swap.
In his first interview with the Russian state-controlled Russia Today (RT), Bout said, “I wished her luck, she even sort of reached out her hand to me,” Reuters reported.
Bout’s claims about his interaction with Griner could not be independently confirmed. Bout and Griner did see each other for a brief moment during the swap, which took place on an airport tarmac in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday.
The Russian state-run TASS news agency showed a brief video of the prisoner swap. The footage was edited and did not show any particular interaction between Bout and Griner, if one did take place.
“It’s our tradition; you should wish everyone good fortune and happiness,” Bout told RT, adding that he felt Griner “was positively inclined” towards him during the prisoner exchange.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. that same year. In 2011, Bout was convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals, conspiring to kill U.S. officers and employees, conspiring to acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Griner was detained by Russian authorities in February on drug possession charges after Russian authorities said they found hashish cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner was convicted for drug possession in Russia in July, and began what would have been a nine-year prison sentence in November.
In an interview with CNN after Griner’s return, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens said Griner was talkative and shook hands with the U.S. flight crew that came to take her home from Abu Dhabi.
“When she finally got on to the US plane, I said, ‘Brittney, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space,’” Carstens told CNN. “And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’ And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing.”