Exchange between Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan could embolden Russia to jail Americans over baseless allegations, an expert warns

The potential US prisoner swap with the Kremlin is a high-stakes tightrope walk that could embolden Russia to jail more Americans over baseless allegations, a legal expert has warned.

After months of debate, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan could be freed if the US offers to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, July 27

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WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, July 27Photo credit: AP:Associated Press
Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands in a defendant's cage while awaiting sentencing in Moscow June 15, 2020

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Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands in a defendant’s cage while awaiting sentencing in Moscow June 15, 2020Photo credit: AFP-Getty
Viktor Bout – who bears the nickname "Merchant of Death" - was convicted in 2011 and is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to murder US citizens and officials

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Viktor Bout – nicknamed the “Dealer of Death” – was convicted in 2011 and is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to murder US citizens and officialsPhoto credit: The Mega Agency

Duncan Levin, a prominent defense attorney and former Manhattan federal and state attorney, said the American justice system is flawed, but it is still a system of due process as opposed to the “sham” that exists in Russia.

Whelan has been held by Russia since 2018 on alleged espionage, and Griner was arrested earlier this year for allegedly carrying cartridges of hash oil-containing liquid.

“A prisoner swap with Russia is like negotiating with a hostage-taker,” Levin told The Sun. “This is more of a dance of international relations than something played in court.”

Both Griner and Whelan’s families have called on the White House to release their loved ones from Russian prisons.

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But the current proposal “risks that Russia will detain more US citizens as a bargaining chip to get what they want,” Levin said.

“This poses a real risk that it will encourage Russia to groundlessly jail even more US citizens on false charges.”

Meanwhile, Bout – nicknamed the “dealer of death” – was convicted in 2011 and is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to murder US citizens and officials.

Calling it a “swap” is misleading, Levin said.

“An exchange is when you exchange like for like,” said the former federal prosecutor.

“But Bout was convicted in the United States of extremely serious felonies against Brittney Griner, who allegedly had some marijuana vape cartridges in her bag.

“She was thrown into a system where she was not informed of her rights and had no due process.”

There’s “no playbook” for this prison swap, so there’s no timeline for when — or if — it will be ready, Levin said.

“There are many factors at play here,” he said. “I think Russia is clearly trying to achieve its goals by imprisoning American citizens and the US is doing everything it can to prevent an injustice.

“But the United States is also aware that it is not encouraging Russia to detain more US citizens without justification.”

COMMENTS FROM ANTHONY BLINK

The tense negotiations will mark the first time the countries have spoken to each other since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

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“We put a significant proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said this week.

Blinken added that he plans to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to raise the proposal.

https://www.the-sun.com/news/5889669/brittney-griner-paul-whelan-prisoner-swap/ Exchange between Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan could embolden Russia to jail Americans over baseless allegations, an expert warns

DevanCole

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