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US basketball star Griner admits to Russian drug crimes but denies intent According to Reuters


© Reuters. American basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained in March at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of marijuana, is escorted before a trial in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, Russia on July 7, 2022. REUTERS / Evgenia WOMEN

KHIMKI, Russia (Reuters) – American basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drug charge in a Russian court on Thursday but denied she knowingly broke the law.

Griner was speaking during the second hearing of her trial on drug charges that carry up to 10 years in prison, days after she urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release.

“I want to plead guilty, for your honor. But not with that intention. I don’t want to break the law,” Griner said, speaking softly in English which was later translated into Russian for the court.

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

The next trial is scheduled for July 14.

Griner’s attorneys told reporters that they hope to obtain the most lenient verdict possible, taking into account “the nature of her case, the insignificant nature and character of BG and her history.” history of making a positive contribution to global and Russian sports.”

“We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences. Brittney stressed that she committed the crime by carelessness, ready to board a plane to Russia with ease. hastily, with no intention of breaking Russian law,” Griner’s lawyer Maria said. Blagovolina, partner at law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners.

“We certainly hope this episode, combined with the defense evidence, will be taken into account when the verdict is passed, and it will be light.”

Griner’s legal team said they expected the trial to close around early August: “Brittney is an example of bravery.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape boxes filled with hash oil, an oil that is illegal in Russia, and has been detained since.

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

Griner will be recognized as an honorary starter at this weekend’s WNBA All-Star Game.

“The WNBA continues to work diligently with the State Department, the White House, and other allies inside and outside the government to get Brittney home as safely and as quickly as possible,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

The White House said Griner’s plea would not affect US negotiations to bring her home.

In a handwritten note, Griner directly called on Biden earlier this week to advance US efforts to bring her home.

“I realize you’re dealing with a lot, but please don’t forget about me and other incarcerated Americans…” Griner wrote. “Do all you can to get us home.”

Biden spoke to Griner’s wife Wednesday, telling her he was working to release the basketball star “as soon as possible,” the White House said.

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

“We will not be appeased until Brittney, Paul Whelan and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to the former Marine. US Marine Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.

‘PIECES IN TRADE’

US officials and many athletes have called for the release of Griner – or “BG” as she is known to basketball fans – who they say has been wrongfully detained.

Her case has raised concerns that Moscow could use it as leverage to negotiate the release of a senior Russian citizen in US custody.

Griner, a Phoenix Mercury center in the Women’s National Basketball Association, played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball League to boost earnings during the WNBA season, like several other U.S. players.

Russian authorities have argued that there are no grounds to consider Griner’s detention illegal and that the case against her is not political despite Moscow’s tense relationship with the United States over Russia’s military intervention. into Ukraine.

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

When asked about Ryabkov’s comments, the US State Department said it would not comment on speculation.

A State Department spokesperson said: “The use of improper detention practices as a bargaining chip represents a threat to the safety of people traveling, working and living in the country. outside. The United States opposes this practice everywhere”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Griner could appeal his sentence or ask for leniency after the ruling is delivered.

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