In a case that has further inflamed tensions between Moscow and Washington, US basketball star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges in a Russian court but denied intending to break the law.
According to reports, the 31-year-old two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA champion, detained days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, faces up to a decade behind bars for bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country.
The basketball star reportedly told a court in the town of Khimki outside Moscow that she “would like to plead guilty” to all the charges, but stressed she had “no intention” of breaking any Russian law.
“I was in a rush packing. And the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag.”
The athlete’s lawyer Alexander Boykov sued for “as soft a sentence as possible”.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that US embassy officials attended Griner’s trial and delivered to her a letter from US President Joe Biden.
He tweeted “We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones”.
Griner’s lawyer Boykov said she had “appreciated” receiving the letter from Biden, who said he would make bringing her home a “priority.”
In a counter reaction,
Moscow hit back, saying that US “hype” over Griner would not help her case.
The court process, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said “The hype and working on the public, with all the love for this genre among modern politicians, currently only disturbs”
“It does not just distract from the case but creates interference in the core sense of the word. Silence is needed here.”
It was reported that in a call with Griner’s wife, Biden said the star was “wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances”.
Biden said he had written to the WBNA star, after she had sent him a hand-written letter presented to the White House on July 4, US Independence Day.
Griner wrote “I realise you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees”.
“Please do all you can to bring us home.”
However, Ryabkov said letters between the two would not help the star’s fate.
He said “It is not correspondence of this kind that can help, but a serious perception by the American side of the signals they received from Moscow, through specialised channels”.
Another member of Griner’s defence team, Maria Blagovolina, said it was her client’s decision to plead guilty.
“Brittney stressed that she committed the crime by negligence,” Blagovolina said.
“We hope that this circumstance, together with the evidence of the defense, will be taken into account by the court.”
Recall that Griner came to Russia in February to play club basketball during the US off-season — a common path for American stars seeking additional income.
Reports have it that she was detained at a Moscow airport after she was found carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage.
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