MOSCOW — A Russian court on Tuesday upheld the nine-year prison sentence handed down to American basketball star Brittney Griner for drug possession, rejecting her appeal.
Griner, an eight-time star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced Aug. 4 after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
The Moscow region court decided on Tuesday to confirm the sentence. In the decision, however, the court said that the time Griner will have to serve in prison will be recalculated taking into account his time in pretrial detention. A day in pretrial detention will count as 1.5 days in prison, so the basketball star will have to serve around eight years in prison.
Griner participated in the Moscow Regional Court hearing via video call from a penal colony outside Moscow where she is imprisoned.
Griner’s arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine. At the time, Griner was returning to Russia, where she played in the American League offseason.
Griner admitted she had the canisters in her luggage, but testified that she inadvertently packed them in a hurry and had no criminal intent. His defense team presented written statements saying he was prescribed cannabis to treat the pain.
The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum, and Griner’s attorneys argued after sentencing that the sentence was excessive. They said that in similar cases, defendants received an average sentence of about five years, and about a third of them were granted parole.
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Prior to her sentencing, the US State Department declared Griner “wrongfully detained” – a charge Russia has firmly denied.
Reflecting mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly revealing in July that Washington had made a “substantial offer.” to bring Griner home, with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
Blinken did not give details, but The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Washington had offered to trade Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence. in the United States and who once earned the nickname “merchant of death”.
The White House said it has yet to receive a productive response from Russia to the offer.
Russian diplomats declined to comment on the US proposal and urged Washington to discuss the issue in confidential talks, avoiding public statements.
In September, US President Joe Biden met with Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and the player’s agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat separately with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister.
The White House said after the meetings that the president emphasized to the families his “continuing commitment to working through every means available to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”
The United States and Russia exchanged prisoners in April. Moscow released veteran US Marines Trevor Reed in exchange for the US release of a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of a drug trafficking conspiracy.
Moscow has also pushed for the release of other Russians held by the United States.
One of them is Alexander Vinnik, who has been accused of laundering billions of dollars through an illicit cryptocurrency exchange. Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 and extradited to the United States in August.
Vinnik’s French lawyer, Frédéric Belot, told Russian newspaper Izvestia last month that his client hoped to be part of a possible exchange.
The newspaper speculated that another possible candidate was Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker. He was sentenced in 2017 to 27 years in prison for hacking and credit card fraud.
The video in the media player above was used in a previous report.
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