American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner to appear in court in Russia after drug arrest

MOSCOW – More than four months after she was arrested at the airport in Moscow for marijuana possession, American basketball star Brittney Griner will appear in court on Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial.

The Phoenix Mercury star, considered America’s most gifted female athlete, could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug trafficking charges. Less than 1% of defendants in criminal cases in Russia are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be overturned.

A trial date has yet to be announced, but is expected soon; Griner was recently ordered to remain in pre-trial detention until July 2. The hearing at Khimki court outside Moscow was to deal with procedural issues.

Griner’s detention and trial took place at an extremely low point in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, exacerbating already high tensions with sweeping US sanctions and Russia’s accusation of supplying American weapons for Ukraine.

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had downplayed hopes of an amicable resolution, until May, when the State Department classified her as wrongfully detained and transferred custody of her case. to the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs – the head of government of the United States. Negotiator.

That move drew more attention to the Griner case, with advocates encouraging prisoner swaps like the one in April that brought home former Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for a pilot. Russia was found guilty of conspiracy to sell drugs.

The Russian media has repeatedly speculated that she could be exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “Death Trader”, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiracy to kill citizens. America and aid to a terrorist organization. .

Russia has been agitating for Bout’s release for years. But the difference between Griner’s case – she was allegedly found in possession of vape canisters containing cannabis oil – and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make a swap like so for the United States.

Others suggested she could be dealing in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former maritime and security chief serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage charges that the United States has repeatedly described as orchestrated.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap between Griner and Whelan for Bout was under consideration, ignored the question.

“As a general recommendation… I have no higher priority than ensuring that Americans who are being held illegally in one way or another around the world get home,” he said. But “I can’t comment on the details of what we’re doing, except to say that this is an absolute priority.”

Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told the Kremlin-funded RT television channel that any swap would obviously require Griner to be convicted and sentenced first, then filed. petition for a presidential pardon.

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