Russia: an American basketball player sentenced to 9 years in prison

Arrested in February in possession of an electronic cigarette containing liquid cannabis, Brittney Griner was found guilty of illegal possession and trafficking of a “significant quantity” of drugs.

American women's basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted Thursday, August 4, of drug trafficking by a Khimki court, near Moscow, and sentenced to 9 years in prison in a “penal colony” . The 2016 and 2020 double Olympic champion had been detained since February after her arrest with a vapoteuse (electronic cigarette) containing cannabis liquid.

“The court found the defendant guilty” of illegal possession and trafficking of a “significant quantity” of drugs, said judge Anna Sotnikova. The 31-year-old denied any smuggling and urged the court not to “end her life” by sentencing her to the heavy prison sentence demanded by the prosecutor.

This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, relatives and teammates,” United States President Joe Biden immediately demanded in a statement released after the announcement. of the sentence. “The verdict is absolutely insane. We will no doubt appeal ,” his lawyers said.

Prisoner exchange in sight?

Since her arrest in February at a Moscow airport, a few days before the Russian offensive in Ukraine , the quadruple European champion with her Yekaterinburg club has been plunged into the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States. Her trial has accelerated in recent days as the two countries negotiate a prisoner swap that the player could be part of, with Washington claiming to have recently made a “substantial” offer to Moscow.

“I made a mistake in good faith and I hope that the judgment will not end my life here” , pleaded the sportswoman during her last speech before the withdrawal of the court and then the statement of the decision.

Aged 31 and measuring 2.06 meters, Brittney Griner is considered one of the best basketball players in the world. Since the start of the trial, she has appeared focused, answering the court's questions calmly and with precision. Thursday, she was once again brought handcuffed to the courtroom, dressed in a gray t-shirt, before being placed in the cage with bars reserved for the defendants. Before the start of the hearing, she held up to reporters a photo of herself surrounded by her basketball teammates in Russia.

Diplomatic negotiations

The Phoenix Mercury player had come to Russia to play during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often earn more money abroad than in the United States. She had been arrested at the airport with cannabis vaping liquid. She admitted having been in possession of this substance, however claiming to have brought it to Russia by mistake.

Above all, she refuted any traffic, stressing that this small quantity of substance was only for her personal consumption, for analgesic purposes, because she suffers from chronic pain like many athletes. “I never wanted to hurt anyone, I never intended to put the Russian population in danger, nor to break the law here,” said the 30-year-old on Thursday. The prosecutor assured him that she had knowingly tried to “hide” the cannabis-based liquid from customs officers at the airport.

Read also Washington proposes an exchange of prisoners between the United States and Russia

US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken says he has urged his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to accept Washington's “substantial offer” to Moscow to secure the release of Brittney Griner and another American detained in Russia , Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage.

According to several American media, it would be a question of exchanging for the two a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, nickname “merchant of death” , arrested in Thailand in 2008 and who is serving a sentence of 25 years in prison in the United States. His extraordinary career was one of the inspirations for the film “Lord of War” in which Nicolas Cage plays a most cynical arms dealer.

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