US basketball star pleads guilty in Russian drugs case
Brittney Griner is facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted
US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty in her Russian drugs case, according to reports from the Khimki City Court just outside Moscow.
Griner, 31, entered the plea as her trial resumed on Thursday.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Reuters quoted Griner as saying in English, in comments then translated into Russian.
Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17 after a search of her luggage found banned hashish vape cartridges.
Speaking on Thursday, Griner explained the presence of the cartridges by saying: “I was in a rush packing. And the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag.”
Her detention has attracted widespread attention all the way up to the White House, with US officials claiming Griner has been “wrongfully detained.”
The Kremlin has refuted those accusations, saying it is not involved in the case and that Griner must face Russian law just like anyone else.
A handcuffed Griner was seen entering the courtroom on Thursday wearing glasses and an all-red outfit.
After she entered her guilty plea, the trial was adjourned until July 14, according to Reuters.
If convicted on drug-smuggling charges, she could face between five and 10 years in prison. Before the trial began, a judge had ordered Griner’s detention to be extended until December as the case plays out.
Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian league, something she has done for the past several years during the WNBA offseason in her homeland.
The 6ft 9in star – widely considered among the greatest female basketball players of all time – usually plays for American women’s team the Phoenix Mercury and is an eight-time WNBA All-Star.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has been critical of the Biden administration and its apparently insufficient efforts at trying to secure the player’s release.
It was revealed earlier this week that Brittney Griner had sent a handwritten letter to Biden asking for help, which White House officials later said the president had replied to. US Embassy officials at Griner’s hearing on Thursday confirmed they had passed on the letter to her.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Griner could be part of a prisoner swap with Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison on allegations of arms smuggling.
However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov dismissed that talk on Thursday, saying that Griner’s case had not even run its course yet.
“It is clear that we have not completed the necessary judicial procedures. Until this happens, there are no nominal, formal, [or] procedural grounds for any further steps, not to mention anything else,” Ryabkov said.
The official criticized the US attitude to Griner’s case and its statements that she was “wrongfully detained.”
Ryabkov said that was further evidence of US officials’ inability “to perceive the world around them adequately” and that it makes it “difficult to engage in a substantive discussion of various kinds of exchanges.”
Speaking to the US media last month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Griner must not be treated as an exception simply because she is a foreigner.