US basketball player Griner pleads guilty to drugs charges in Russian court

Source: news.sky.com : 2022-07-07 14:02:00 :

US basketball player Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drugs charges in a Russian court.

The 31-year-old was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February while travelling to play for a Russian team.

Police said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil.

She told the court on Thursday: “I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”

Russian news agencies reported the proceedings and quoted Griner as testifying that she had acted unintentionally because she was packing quickly for the trip.

Griner’s lawyers confirmed her guilty plea, with one telling reporters they were hoping for the most lenient sentence possible.

The Phoenix Mercury star and two-time US Olympic gold medallist could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Griner is eating well, able to read books and “under the circumstances, she’s doing well”, said US embassy diplomat Elizabeth Rood, who spoke to her in the courtroom.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the team had given her a letter from President Biden and would “not relent” until she and other wrongfully detained Americans are freed.

The player’s wife has urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn”.

The White House said on Wednesday that the president had phoned her wife to say he’s doing everything he can to get Griner released.

They spoke after Mr Biden read a handwritten letter from Griner in which she said she was worried she would never return home.

“I realise you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees…” she said. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) shoots around Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage during the first half of Game 5 of a WNBA basketball playoff series Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)
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Griner plays for Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA league

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned on Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public… don’t help the practical settlement of issues”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously denied politics and the Ukraine war had anything to do with the sports star’s detention.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman claimed Griner had committed a “serious offence” that’s backed up by “indisputable evidence”.

Speculation over ‘Merchant of Death’ swap

The case is gathering further momentum in the US, with the likes of prominent activist Rev Al Sharpton among those calling on President Biden to do more.

Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that sent home marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug-trafficking conspiracy.

Russian media have speculated she could be exchanged for arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”, and serving 25 years in a US prison.

However, Mr Ryabkov said “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps” until the trial finishes.

Griner was travelling to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian league to boost her income during the US off-season.

Her trial began last week but was adjourned after two witnesses failed to appear and there are fears it could take months to complete.

Her next appearance has been scheduled for 14 July.



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