Russia denies plans to swap US spy for Bout
Russia's foreign ministry said Thursday there were no plans to swap a convicted US spy for alleged "Merchant of Death" arms dealer Viktor Bout after reports said such a proposal was on the cards.
The Interfax news agency, quoting a law enforcement source, reported Wednesday that officials were mulling a plan to swap Bout for a former Russian defence ministry official convicted of spying for the United States.
"The issue of him being swapped for anyone is not under consideration," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in televised remarks, adding that Bout was never a state employee nor acted on behalf of the state.
"We very much regret that there is so much speculation on this matter."
The Interfax report had said Bout could be swapped for Andrei Khlychev, who was sentenced last week to 18 years by a Moscow court. Citing sources, the news agency said he was accused of passing the US classified data on the Russian nuclear industry.
Bout is believed by US law enforcement to be one of the world's biggest arms traffickers. He was arrested in a US sting in March 2008 and extradited from Thailand to New York in November after a long legal battle.
He is being held in the high security wing of a Manhattan detention centre. News reports have suggested he may have worked with alleged agents who now have powerful posts in the Russian government, a claim Bout has denied.
Last July, Russia and the United States staged their biggest spy swap since the Cold War, exchanging 10 agents deported by the US for four freed by Moscow.
© 2011 AFP