Exhibition of prison paintings by Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout opens in Moscow

Viktor Bout in Thailand. October 5, 2010. Nicolas Asfouri / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

A four day exhibition of paintings by convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, opened in Russia’s Civic Chamber building in Moscow on Monday, December 6.

As reported by RIA Novosti, the exhibition features a total of 24 works that Bout created while in prison. These drawings and paintings were made using simple materials, including pencils, ballpoint pens, pastels, wax crayons, and oil paints. Bout sent the artworks to Moscow through Russian diplomats. 

The works on display were selected by Bout’s wife, Alla, reports the Russian State news agency TASS. According to Alla Bout, drawing is the “only opportunity” her husband has to “somehow communicate with the outside world.”

Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 at the request of U.S. authorities, who accused him of conspiring to sell smuggled weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (a guerilla group better known as the FARC, which the U.S. classified as a terrorist organization at the time). The purported arms deal was actually a sting operation set up by undercover American agents posing as FARC representatives. 

In 2010, Bout was extradited from Thailand to the United States — Russia condemned his transfer as illegal. In 2012, a New York City court handed him the minimum sentences for the charges against him: 25 years in prison. 

District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who presided over Bout’s case in Manhattan, later said she believed the sentence was “excessive and inappropriate.” Scheindlin told the New York Times that Bout was “pretty well retired” by the time of his arrest and was “reeled in” by the American sting operation. Bout maintained his innocence throughout the court proceedings and after he was convicted. 

Moscow has deemed Bout’s case political and his fate is regularly discussed among Russian and American diplomats. Reports have emerged repeatedly that Bout might be transferred to Russia to finish out his sentence, in exchange for high-profile foreign prisoners. For example, at various times, there was talk of exchanging Bout for Ukrainian nationals Nadezhda Savchenko and Oleg Sentsov, or American Paul Whelan. However, Bout’s lawyer said on Monday that there has been no progress on the issue of an exchange. 

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Translation by Eilish Hart


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