US basketball star Griner admits Russian drug charge but denies intent

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KHIMKI, Russia, July 7 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drug charge in a Russian court on Thursday but denied intentionally breaking the law.

Griner was speaking at the second hearing of his trial on the narcotics charge that carries up to 10 years in prison, days after he urged US President Joe Biden to secure his release. Read more

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t mean to break the law,” Griner said, speaking softly in English, which was later translated into Russian for the court.

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“I would like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added.

The next court hearing was scheduled for July 14.

Griner’s attorneys told reporters they were hoping for the most lenient sentence possible.

“We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences. Brittney pointed out that she had committed the crime negligently, preparing to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, without having the intent to violate Russian law,” said Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina, a partner at law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners.

“We certainly hope that this circumstance, in combination with the defense evidence, will be considered at sentencing, and that it will be mild.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hash oil, which is illegal in Russia, and has been detained ever since.

The WNBA Players Association released a statement reiterating their support for the eight-time All-Star.

“What we do know is that the US State Department has determined that Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained for a reason and will continue to negotiate her release,” the WNBPA said.

In a handwritten note, Griner appealed to Biden directly earlier this week to step up US efforts to bring her home.

“I realize you have so much to do, but please don’t forget me and the other American inmates…” Griner wrote. “Please do everything you can to get us home.”

Biden spoke with Griner’s wife on Wednesday, telling her he was working to get her released “as soon as possible,” the White House said. Read more

Officials from the US Embassy in Moscow attended Griner’s trial and presented him with a letter from Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

‘We won’t back down until Brittney, Paul Whelan and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,’ he tweeted, referring to the former Marine Whelan jailed in Russia since 2018 for espionage .

‘MONEY CHANGE’

US officials and scores of athletes have called for the release of Griner — or “BG” as basketball fans call her — who they say was wrongfully detained.

His case has also raised concerns that Moscow could use it as leverage to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian citizen held by the United States.

Griner, a center for the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Mercury, had played for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to supplement her earnings during the WNBA offseason, like several other American players.

Russian authorities say there is no reason to consider Griner’s detention illegal and the case against her is not political despite Moscow’s strained relations with the United States over the intervention Russian military in Ukraine.

Moscow Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that it was difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested that Washington stop talking about Griner’s fate. Read more

Asked about Ryabkov’s remarks, the State Department said it would not comment on speculation.

“Using the practice of wrongful detention as a bargaining chip poses a threat to the safety of all who travel, work and live abroad. The United States opposes this practice everywhere,” a doorman said. -state department spokesman.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Griner could appeal his conviction or seek leniency once the verdict is handed down.

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Reporting by Reuters Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Amy Tennery Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Mark Trevelyan, Angus MacSwan, Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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