US basketball star Griner freed in swap for Russian arms dealer

Published December 9, 2022
This combination of file pictures created on Thursday shows basketball player Brittney Griner waiting for the verdict inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on Aug 4 this year and (right) Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout waiting at a detention centre in Bangkok on March 8, 2008.—AFP
This combination of file pictures created on Thursday shows basketball player Brittney Griner waiting for the verdict inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on Aug 4 this year and (right) Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout waiting at a detention centre in Bangkok on March 8, 2008.—AFP

WASHINGTON: American basketball star Brittney Griner was headed home on Thursday after being freed from a Russian prison in a swap for Viktor Bout, the notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”

President Joe Biden announced Griner’s release in an early morning address to the nation and Moscow confirmed she had been exchanged in Abu Dhabi for Bout, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

Biden thanks the UAE for helping ‘facilitate’ two-time Olympic gold medalist’s release

“She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden said, adding that he had spoken to Griner and she was in “good spirits” after what he described as a “terrible ordeal.” Biden pledged to continue to seek Whelan’s freedom. “Sadly, Russia is treating Paul’s case different than Brittney’s and even though we have not secured Paul’s release we will never give up,” he said.

Biden publicly thanked the United Arab Emirates for helping “facilitate” Griner’s release and the UAE issued a joint statement with Saudi Arabia saying it was the result of “mediation efforts” by leaders of the two Arab nations.

Griner and Bout were flown to Abu Dhabi by private planes, the statement said, and were exchanged “in the presence of specialists from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.”

The 32-year-old Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and LGBT trailblazer, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.

She was accused of possession of vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil and sentenced in August to nine years in prison.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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