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Former Bout case judge said to urge his release on eve of Biden-Putin summit

On the eve of the Geneva meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, allies of imprisoned arms trafficker Viktor Bout pressed for a prisoner swap, issuing a statement by Bout’s former judge calling for his release.

A law firm representing Bout in the U.S. issued a statement Monday attributed to former federal judge Shira Scheindlin, who sentenced Bout in 2012 to 25 years in prison, now saying she “would give him time served if she could do so.” The statement from the Steve Zissou & Associates legal firm, which was shared with Russian news agency RIA Novosti, paraphrased comments from Scheindlin but did not provide direct quotes.

Scheindlin had been critical of the case against Bout even when she presided over his trial, rejecting the government’s call for a life prison term for Bout. In settling for a lesser 25-year jail term for Bout, Scheindlin poked holes in the government’s call for a life term, but did not alter the federal jury’s decision to convict Bout on conspiracy charges.

Bout is serving a 25 year prison sentence in a medium-security federal prison in Marion, Ill. for his 2011 conviction for conspiring to target U.S. officials with lethal weapons during a U.S. government sting operation featuring informants posing as South American narco-terrorists. He is scheduled to be released in 2029.

Bout’s 2008 arrest in Bangkok by U.S. narcotics agents and Thai police followed more than a decade of his exploits in Africa, Asia and the Mideast and a determined international manhunt to apprehend him, a saga chronicled in the book, “Merchant of Death.”

Bout’s wife, Alla, and his mother, Raisa, both recently publicly called for Bout’s release through a potential prisoner exchange for Paul Whelan, an American convicted by a Moscow court and jailed on espionage charges, which Whelan has denied.

The Biden administration has given no public hint that it is considering a trade for Bout, and a Russian diplomat recently downplayed the possibility.