American Britney Grenier, one of the best basketball players in the world, was convicted of illegal possession and drug trafficking in Russia. Discussions are underway between the latter and the United States to exchange prisoners.
A Russian court on Thursday sentenced American basketball star Britney Grenier to nine years in prison for drug trafficking, a severe sentence that Joe Biden called “unacceptable”, opening the way for a possible prisoner exchange between Moscow and Washington. The double Olympic champion was arrested last February in Moscow with a liquid vaporizer of cannabis, shortly before the Russian attack on Ukraine, and plunged into a geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States.
The pace of her trial has accelerated in recent days as the two countries negotiate a prisoner exchange that the player could be a part of, with Washington claiming it recently made a “substantial” offer to Moscow. “The court found the accused guilty” of illegal possession and drug trafficking, Judge Anna Sotnikova said, according to an AFP journalist present at the Khimki courthouse near Moscow. She added that as a result, the basketball player was sentenced to “nine years in a penal colony” and a fine of one million rubles (about 16 thousand euros at the current rate).
In a statement immediately after the verdict was announced, US President Joe Biden urged “this is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, loved ones and teammates.” Griner’s attorneys announced their decision to appeal the “utterly insane” verdict. The player listened to the judge’s statement with her face lowered, and was locked in the cage designated for the accused in the courtroom.
To get a vaper
“I erred in good faith and I hope my sentence does not end here,” Grenier said in his final speech before the court’s decision was announced. At 31 years old and measuring 2.06m, Griner is considered one of the best basketball players in the world. Since the trial began, she has seemed focused, answering court questions calmly and meticulously. Thursday, before the start of the session, she raised before the journalists a photo of herself surrounded by her colleagues on the basketball team of Russia.
The Phoenix Mercury player came to Russia to play during the American season, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often earn more money overseas than in the United States. She had been arrested at the airport with cannabis-smoking liquid. She admitted to possession of this substance, but claimed that she had brought it to Russia by mistake. Above all, she refuted any smuggling, asserting that this tiny amount of material is only for her personal consumption, for analgesic purposes, because she suffers from chronic pain.
“I never meant to hurt anyone, I never meant to endanger the Russian people, or break the law here,” Greiner said Thursday. On the same day, the prosecutor assured him that she had knowingly tried to “hide” cannabis liquid from customs officers at the airport.
Russian arms dealer
The player’s lawyers requested her acquittal. The player’s conviction legally paves the way for a possible prisoner exchange. Last week, US Chief of Diplomacy Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov had their first discussions since the start of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.
Blinken said he pressured his counterpart to accept Washington’s “big offer” for Moscow to secure the release of Grenier and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage. According to many American media, it will be a question of exchanging a famous Russian arms smuggler detained in the United States, Victor Bout, against Britney Greiner and Mr. Whelan. Mr. Butt, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US, has been nicknamed the “Dealer of Death”. His extraordinary career was one of the inspirations for the movie “Lord of War”, in which Nicolas Cage plays a cynical arms dealer.
No agreement has yet been reported and the Kremlin appeared to be furious after Washington’s public statements about the negotiations. Blagovolina, Grenier’s attorney, said Tuesday that the player’s defense is hoping for only one thing: “You’ll be able to go home.”