An arms trafficker nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” and traded by the Biden administration for basketball star Brittney Griner in a controversial prisoner swap last year is back on Russian soil and running for elected office.
Viktor Bout has been described as one of the world’s most dangerous criminals and had earned himself a one-way ticket into an American prison for 25 years on four felony charges, including conspiring to kill Americans and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
The former Soviet military translator had built his empire in a largely lawless post-Soviet era by sending airplanes around the world to provide weapons to terrorists and militants. He had been lured to Thailand in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation that spanned three continents and was arrested.
Now, Bout wants to give back to his home country.
The 56-year-old is running as a candidate for the regional assembly in Ulyanovsk, a territory of 1.3 million people about 450 miles east of Moscow that was Vladimir Lenin’s birthplace.
“I’ve been for 15 years locked up in your federal system,” he said in an interview with the New York Times conducted in Moscow. “So what do you expect for me, that I have to take time to take vacation? Heck no. I’ve got to do everything for my country.”
Bout didn’t provide many details about his campaign platform but told the New York news outlet that he wanted to build his political career from the ground up to gain insight into problems plaguing everyday Russians after being locked up in the United States for more than a decade.
“When you’re absent for 15 years from country, you need to start somewhere,” he said. “So for me, going into regional office, it’s a better way to understand the problems. I need to meet people. I need to learn how they live.”
If he wins, it would not be the first time someone accused of committing crimes by Western authorities has gone back to glory and held office in Russia.
Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard accused of murdering Alexander Litvinenko by British authorities, is now a deputy of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.
Maria Butina, the Russian agent who tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association to sway policy and pleaded guilty in 2018 to a single charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent, was deported to Russia, where she became a member of the Duma in 2021. She belongs to the United Russia Party, whose leader is President Vladimir Putin.
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