Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer unnervingly known as The Merchant of Death, is a free man. Having spent 14 years in a United States prison, Bout returned to his native Russia as part of a prisoner exchange involving basketball star Brittney Griner.
“I made it,” Viktor told a reporter from national television after landing in Moscow. “That’s the main thing. In the middle of the night they simply woke me up and said ‘Get your things together’ and that was it.”
Awaiting him were Bout’s mother and wife, Alla Bout. Per Reuters, Viktor walked down the steps carrying a large bouquet before hugging his mother and Alla.
Alla campaigned tirelessly for Viktor Bout’s release from prison
Viktor Bout and Alla Vladimirovna met in the late 1980s in Mozambique, where he worked as a translator for the Soviet military. Alla, a fashion designer born in Leningrad in 1970, owned clothing stores in Russia, South Africa, and Germany.
Bout and Alla married in 1992. They welcomed their daughter, Liza, in 1994 in the United Arab Emirates.
Alla told The Daily Beast that the first time she heard about Viktor’s alleged terrorist activities was in 2001 when the U.S. Embassy in the UAE denied the couple a visa. She said: “We heard that America doesn’t let in terrorists. I thought, if my husband is a terrorist, who is everybody else?”
She told the outlet that Bout’s accounts were frozen due to a United Nations report alleging he’d violated arms embargoes in Angola. Alla said that for a few years, the family lived on her income from fashion. She described Viktor as a proud Russian patriot:
“I’ve lived with this strong, fearless, and patriotic man for over 20 years. I was proud of him when he organized the rescue of an Ilyshin-76 airplane crew hijacked by the Taliban in Kandahar in 1995.”
The U.S. government, in cooperation with Thai officials, arrested Viktor in March 2008. Prosecutors alleged he negotiated a deal to seal weapons to agents posing as Revolutionary Armed Forces, a terrorist group. “During that recorded conversation, he said he would like to kill Americans,” Alla admitted.
After Viktor’s conviction and arrest, he gave Alla the authority to write letters on his behalf. Alla requested the Russian Justice Ministry to negotiate his transfer to Russia, where he would serve out his sentence. She told The Daily Beast that she hoped for a prisoner exchange:
“People suggested that he could be exchanged for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. I hope they catch all of the spies in Moscow and swap them for my husband.”
Alla’s efforts paid off as Viktor Bout returned to Russia in December 2022
As Alla predicted, the only realistic way Viktor could return to Russia was via a prisoner exchange. Her prayers were realized when the American government swapped Viktor for Griner.
“I have met with many of our politicians and deputies and there have been so many letters and appeals written, the conversations were always very positive,” Alla told Russian state media. “There was, of course, a great hope that Viktor would finally have the opportunity to return home.”
Alla thanked everyone who helped secure Viktor’s release, including the consular departments in New York and Washington. The report by Russian media showed that Alla lives in a modest, cramped apartment.
She told The Daily Beast that the Bouts’ residence shows Viktor wasn’t the billionaire arms dealer the U.N. purported him to be. “If [Viktor] really built a billion-dollar fortune, as his accusers in New York claim, he would have built something like that,” she said, pointing to an Art Deco-style mansion across the street.
Alla said Viktor planned to write a book about his time in prison
Alla eased Viktor’s time in prison by sending him books by his favorite authors – Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Rajneesh Osho. She said Viktor didn’t socialize much with other inmates, but he wasn’t having a difficult time. In a letter to Itar-Tass, Viktor wrote:
“Prison, as Dostoyevsky wrote (if I am not mistaken), is a mirror of society. I have never been to the U.S. before, so it would be a very distorted picture, and I hope there is another America, but that’s only my hope.”
In September 2019, Alla and Liza visited Viktor in prison for the first time since his sentencing. After the visit, Alla told Tass that Viktor had developed a schedule to help fill out his days:
“He never strays from it — he is a strong man, he’s tough, a former military man — he has sufficient willpower. He gets up, begins with yoga, then goes on to do some reading followed by a little snack, later he studies languages and reads again.”
Alla told the outlet that Viktor had a good relationship with prison authorities and never clashed with other prisoners. She said the absence of gang violence in the United States Penitentiary, Marion, made Viktor’s imprisonment peaceful. “Viktor keeps to himself, he has his own program,” Alla added.
After the visit, Alla discussed Viktor’s desire to write a book about surviving prison. “He is going to – or at least he says he is morally almost ready – to write a book,” Alla said.
Perhaps the book will address allegations that Viktor might be a Russian secret agent – claims Alla vehemently denies. She told The Daily Beast:
“For as long as I’ve lived with him, he has never received money from any Russian secret services or ministries. He worked 24 hours a day to make his own fortune, which now is all gone.”