Who could be part of a US-Russia prisoner exchange?

AFP , Friday 5 Aug 2022

The drug smuggling conviction in Russia of US basketball star Brittney Griner has again raised the question of potential prisoner exchanges between Moscow and Washington.

Bout, Griner, Whelan
File Photo: Arms trafficker Victor Bout, basketball star Brittney Griner and former US marine Paul Whelan could feature in a prisoner swap. AFP


Russia said Friday it was "ready" for talks on a swap, so who are the potential prisoners involved?

Brittney Griner

Griner was on Thursday sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for possessing and smuggling narcotics.

She was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil. The arrest came just days before Moscow launched its offensive in Ukraine on February 24.

She said it was prescribed by a US doctor to relieve pain for her many injuries.

The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury player came to Russia to play basketball for a club in Russia's Yekaterinburg during the off-season -- a common path for American stars seeking additional income.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist and Women's NBA champion pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

Paul Whelan

Former US marine Paul Whelan, 52, was arrested in December 2018 and accused by Russian security services of spying.

He was detained on a visit to Moscow to attend a wedding when he took a USB drive from an acquaintance, thinking it contained holiday photographs.

The former security official at a vehicle parts company -- who also has British, Canadian and Irish passports -- was sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges in June 2020.

During his closed-door trial, Whelan insisted he was innocent.

Marc Fogel

A teacher at an international school in Moscow, US citizen Marc Fogel was in June sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of "large-scale" cannabis trafficking.

Russian customs officers said they found marijuana and hash oil in Fogel's luggage when he arrived from New York at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

Fogel said the marijuana was prescribed in the United States for medical purposes after a spinal operation.

Russia has not made the use of cannabis legal for medicinal purposes.

Russian officials said Fogel was earlier employed by the US embassy in Moscow and benefited from diplomatic immunity until May 2021.

Victor Bout

Russian arms trafficker Victor Bout was in 2012 sentenced to 25 years in a US jail after he was accused of arming rebels in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts.

The 55-year-old is considered the highest-profile Russian imprisoned in the United States.

The former Soviet air force officer and polyglot was arrested in Thailand in 2008 during a sting operation in which US agents posed as Colombia's FARC rebels seeking weapons.

He inspired the 2005 arms smuggling movie "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage and was dubbed the "Merchant of Death" by former British minister Peter Hain for supplying weapons to war-torn Angola and Liberia.

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