Griner jailed for nine years in Russian drugs trial

A judge at Khimki City Court outside Moscow delivered the verdict on Thursday

US women’s basketball player Brittney Griner has been handed a nine-year prison sentence after being found guilty in her drugs trial at a court just outside Moscow.

The sentence is only slightly more lenient than the one demanded by prosecutors earlier on Thursday, after they had requested a nine-and-a-half-year term for Griner. 

In addition, the presiding judge ordered Griner to pay a fine of 1 million Russian rubles ($16,200) as part of the case, after she was found guilty of attempting to smuggle illegal narcotics into the country. 

Griner’s legal team immediately said they would appeal the sentence, according to reports from Khimki City Court. 

Griner had claimed in her defense that the hashish oil vape cartridges found in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17 had ended up there unintentionally, after she had been packing in a hurry. 

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Whether Griner serves the entirety of her sentence in Russia remains to be seen. 

The two-time Olympic champion has become the topic of political discussions, with US officials claiming Griner has been “wrongfully detained.”

Those accusations have been staunchly denied by Moscow, which has consistently said that Griner must face Russian law and that no exceptions can be made just because she is a foreigner.  

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 deal could be made involving 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, although Moscow did not comment on the specific details of any potential prisoner swap.  

Moscow has frequently urged diplomacy through established channels, warning Washington against political grandstanding in its efforts to exert pressure for Griner’s return. 

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Griner herself said in remarks at her trial on Thursday that she wanted to distance herself from the political furor surrounding the case as she apologized for what she described as “an honest mistake.”

Griner is widely considered among the greatest female basketball players ever, and is an eight-time WNBA All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury in her homeland. 

She had been traveling to Russia on a lucrative deal to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, something she has done since 2015. 

From Houston, Texas, Griner said she considered Ekaterinburg something of a second home.

Now that a verdict and sentence have been delivered in her case, efforts will likely be stepped up in Washington to secure a swap deal with Moscow for her release.  

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