US basketball player Griner found guilty in Russian drugs case

The verdict was announced at a court just outside Moscow

US women’s basketball player Brittney Griner has been found guilty in her Russian drugs trial after a judge delivered the verdict at Khimki City Court on the outskirts of Moscow on Thursday. 

Griner was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport just outside the Russian capital on February 17 after banned hashish oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage. 

The 31-year-old pleaded guilty in her trial, but said the cartridges had ended up in her luggage unintentionally after she was packing in a hurry. 

Earlier on Thursday, prosecutors had demanded nine and a half years in a penal colony for Griner and a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,500). 

The player herself had apologized, saying she made “an honest mistake under stress” in a tearful address to court.  

The sentence will be announced by judge Anna Sotnikova in due course after Griner was found guilty of attempting to smuggle illegal narcotics. 

The maximum possible punishment for the charges is 10 years in prison. 

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Griner returned to court on Thursday. © Pavel Pavlov / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Russian prosecutor wants 9.5 years for Griner

Griner’s case has played out amid an increasingly political backdrop, with the US classifying her as “wrongfully detained.”

Moscow has denied those claims, asserting that Griner must face Russian law and that no exceptions should be made because she is a foreigner. 

The plight of the two-time Olympic champion and the publicity surrounding her case has placed pressure on the Biden administration to secure her release. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last month that Washington had made Moscow a “substantial offer” for the release of Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been convicted of espionage charges in Russia.

Reports claimed that a swap deal could be made with Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison for arms dealing. 

CNN later said Moscow wants Vadim Krasikov, a Russian national convicted of murder in Germany last year, to be included in a potential prisoner exchange.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke to Blinken last week after a request from Washington, officials in Moscow confirmed. 

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Brittney Griner is shown playing an an August 2021 WNBA game in Phoenix.
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Moscow has urged quiet diplomacy through established channels, warning Washington against political grandstanding. 

Russian officials have also insisted that Griner’s case must be concluded before any potential prisoner swap is negotiated. 

An eight-time WNBA All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury, Griner was traveling to Russia on a lucrative contract to play at UMMC Ekaterinburg during the offseason in her homeland – a move she has made for the past several years.

Griner’s Russian legal team had argued that she should be shown leniency in her case, while members of her team in Russia had also testified in her support. 

Earlier in the trial the court was shown a certificate which said she had a prescription for medical use of cannabis in the US to combat pain from her injuries.