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Terrorism, “sting” operations, prisoner swaps and Brittney Griner

by | Sep 5, 2022 | Firm News |

How did the fate of Brittney Griner, an American professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association, cross paths with Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a twenty-five -year imprisonment in the United States for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials by delivering anti-aircraft missiles and providing aid to a terrorist organization?

The answer is that Ms. Greiner was detained by Russian customs after cartridges containing less than a gram of hashish oil were found in her luggage. She was later arrested on drug charges and has now been sentenced to nine years in prison. As a result of her conviction, and the conviction of Mr. Bout in 2011, they might be exchanged in a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia.

Ms. Greiner admitted her guilt. She was sentenced to a sentence of nine years under Russian law.

Mr. Bout was convicted of conspiracy and did not admit his guilt. He went to trial and was convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

Most Americans would consider the charges against Brittney Greiner conduct that really should not be a crime. At best, she innocently brought something into Russia that is illegal there.

Viktor Bout, the model for the movie, Lord of War, portrayed by Nicholas Cage, was the subject of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) “sting” operation designed to charge him with a crime he never committed. His lawyer, Roger Zissou, stated that the conspiracy with which Bout was charged involved no weapons, and no exchange of money and, in Bout’s view, no crime. The proposed prisoner swap brings to the surface, once again, the DEA sting operations described in a New Yorker Magazine article.

“The D.E.A. agents concocted a scheme…. Undercover operatives, posing as members of Colombia’s main rebel group, the FARC, would entice Bout, through intermediaries, with the prospect of a multimillion-dollar arms deal. The State Department designates the FARC as a foreign terrorist organization; because much of the FARC’s funds derive from the drug trade, the D.E.A. takes the lead on most cases related to the group. The undercover agents would insist on meeting Bout somewhere outside Russia and catch him on tape discussing a shipment of surface-to-air missiles to the FARC, for the purpose of killing American troops in Colombia.”  Disarming Viktor Bout, the rise and fall of the world’s most notorious weapons trafficker. By Nicholas Schmidle (August 27, 2014)

Whatever Viktor Bout may have done as an arms dealer, the thing that got him was the sting operation. The plan is remarkably simple. A meeting is arranged between the target, in this case Viktor Bout, and confidential sources referred to as “CSs”. These individuals meet with the target and ask him if he will be willing to sell to a Columbian terrorist organization, FARC The conversations are very casual, and the target says something that sounds like he agreed to sell to a sale. The person who introduced the CSs to the target usually is someone involved in drugs who has committed a crime. Sometimes, someone who launders money is also involved. None of the conspirators need to know what the other person has done — they just must be drawn together in what the government charges is a conspiracy.

Once someone charged with illegal arms sales in a DEA sting operation hears about Viktor Bout, the target knows that he will never escape confinement. He knows he will be convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and provide aid to a terrorist organization.

One such individual was Ali Fayad, a Lebanese national, residing in Ukraine, representing the Ukrainian government, and selling arms legitimately sanctioned by the United States government. He sold arms to Iraq and to Syria. He too was drawn into a meeting with CSs, an individual named Fouzi Jabber who allegedly dealt drugs, and another named El Meribi. Together, they were alleged, like Viktor Bout, to have formed a conspiracy to sell anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down U.S. helicopters in Columbia and provide aid to the terrorist organization in Columbia, FARC.

The difference between Ali Fayad and Viktor Bout is that Ali Fayad avoided imprisonment because of a prisoner swap.

The meeting Ali Fayad had with the CSs, which resulted in the charges against in the United States, took place is Warsaw. He was lured to that meeting, after resisting, and urging the CSs to come to Ukraine to the showroom where they could see the armaments and buy them legitimately. Ali Fayad claimed he had no idea what FARC was and had no intention to sell to any terrorist organization.

He was arrested and incarcerated in Prague for two and a half years. He had a Czech lawyer and was represented in the United States by Lou Adolfsen of this office.

As his case began to move along on the calendar in the Southern District of New York, U.S. counsel for Fayad argued that he had no intention to enter any conspiracy. His lawyers met with the top level of the U.S. attorney’s office which rejected his arguments.

In 2015, Mr. Fayad’s Czech counsel went to Lebanon for purposes that he did not discuss with U.S. counsel. The Czech attorney, along with Ali Fayad’s brother and three other Czechs accompanying them, travelled to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon where they were kidnapped.

Six months later, the word went out from unknown sources seeking a prisoner swap. The prisoner swap took place. The Czechs were released and returned to their homes. Ali Fayad was returned to Lebanon as was his brother. (He faced further legal troubles there and was represented by his U.S. counsel who succeeded in having him released).

Shortly before the swap, the Czech Justice Minister, Robert Pelikan, overruled the Czech courts, and refused the requests for extradition of Ali Fayad and El Meribi to the United States. Consequently, regardless of any prisoner swap, the Czech government was not going to extradite Ali Fayad based on the DEA sting operation. On the other hand, Fouzi Jabber, who was believed to have committed a drug crime, was extradited to the United States.

Thus, the case of Ali Fayad is a model for a prisoner swap of Brittney Greiner, a US basketball player, for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer. These two people, who had nothing whatsoever to do with each other, somehow have now become especially important in each other’s lives.