US basketball star ‘keeping the faith’ as Russian drugs case adjourned
The narcotics trial of US women’s basketball icon Brittney Griner began in a Russian court on Friday before being adjourned until July 7. Griner is charged with bringing illegal hashish oil vape cartridges into Russia when she arrived at a Moscow airport in mid-February.
Griner, 31, appeared at Khimki City Court just outside Moscow as the trial began, and was seen entering the courtroom wearing glasses and a T-shirt bearing an image of Jimi Hendrix. Along with Griner’s legal team, representatives from the US Embassy in the Russian capital were also present.
The prosecution opened its case against Griner, who was initially detained at Sheremetyevo Airport after arriving on a flight from New York on February 17, when a sniffer dog alerted officials to her luggage and a subsequent search uncovered banned cannabis oil vape cartridges.
Quoted by TASS, prosecutors said that “being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed... no later than February 17, 2022, at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person, [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams.”
Griner was not asked to enter a guilty or innocent plea at Friday’s proceedings, and will instead do so at a later date. Two witnesses – both customs officials – testified at the hearing but the absence of others meant that the case was adjourned until the afternoon of next Thursday, July 7, according to RIA.
The charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, told reporters outside the court that Griner “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”
“She asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith,” Rood added.
Should she be found guilty, Griner could face between five and 10 years in prison.
US officials have claimed Griner is being used as a “political hostage” and a potential bargaining chip for a prisoner swap later down the line.
Unconfirmed reports have claimed that a swap deal could include Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison after allegations of arms dealing.
However, the claims that Griner is a political pawn were again dismissed by Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday.
Peskov repeated that the Russian legal process must take its due course and that the Kremlin would not compromise Griner’s trial in any way.
The spokesman for President Putin has previously said that Griner should not be granted special treatment simply because she is a foreigner.
Lawyers for Griner told the media on Friday that they had no information on a supposed prisoner swap, adding that the basketball player had “no complaints” about her detention conditions.
“She is engaged in physical education in accordance with the regulations, both in the cell and for a walk,” said lawyer Maria Blagovolina, according to Match TV.
Fellow lawyer Alexander Boikov added that Griner was grateful for the support she had received from the likes of men’s NBA icon LeBron James.
Phoenix Mercury star Griner – who is a two-time Olympic champion and eight-time WNBA All-Star – was arriving in Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the offseason in her homeland, something she had done since 2015.
Prior to her trial, Griner had her detention extended until December as her case plays out.