Brittney Griner found guilty of drug charges: how long could she be in prison for?
The basketball star has been convicted of possessing and smuggling cannabis oil, but there are hopes that a diplomatic intervention could soon set her free.
US basketball player Brittney Griner has been convicted in a Russian court on drug charges after a small quantity of medical marijuana was found in her suitcase while travelling through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February.
She has been sentenced to nine years in prison and faces a one million rouble fine, the equivalent of around $16,300. Griner was arrested in the days before Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which continues to provide the political backdrop to the case.
Backdoor negotiations between American and Russian intelligence officials and continued throughout the process and will not stop now that the sentence has been handed down. Her conviction was deemed a foregone conclusion with Russia looking to gain some leverage against the US for a potential prisoner exchange.
What did Brittney Griner say about the verdict?
Judge Anna Sotnikova presided over the case and ruled that Griner was guilty of charges related to the possession and smuggling of cannabis oil. The product, although prescribed legally by her doctor in Arizona, is banned in Russia.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said, shortly before the verdict was handed down.
“I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
Griner told the court that she made “an honest mistake” and added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Will there be a prisoner swap involving Brittney Griner?
With such a high-profile arrest at a time of elevated tensions between the two nations, American officials have sought to resolve the issue with diplomacy but appear to have had little success so far.
Last week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in contact with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, searching for a solution to keep Griner out of prison. The Hill reports that Blinken had proposed a deal which would see Griner go free along with Paul Whelan, an American currently in prison in Russia after being convicted of espionage.
It is thought that Griner and Whelan’s freedom would be exchanged for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms trader. Bout is currently imprisoned in the US and was among the most wanted men in the world until his arrest in 2008.
He has been nicknamed “the merchant of death,” and “the sanctions buster” for his ability to circumvent restrictions on arms sales. His life inspired the 2005 film, ‘Lord of War’, which saw Nicholas Cage play an arms dealer based on Bout.