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American basketball star Griner confesses to Russian drug charge, but denies intent

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  • This content was produced in Russia, where the law limits coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

KHIMKI, Russia, July 7 (Reuters) – American basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drug charge in a Russian court on Thursday, but denied that she intentionally broke the law.

Griner spoke at the second hearing of her trial about the narcotics charge, which carries a prison term of up to 10 years, days after she urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release. read more

“I’d like to plead guilty, Your Honor. But there was no intention. I didn’t mean to break the law,” Griner said, speaking softly in English, which was then translated into Russian in court.

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

The next court hearing was scheduled for July 14.

Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boykov, told reporters they hoped for the mildest possible sentencing.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February with vape cartridges containing hash oil, which is illegal in Russia, and has been held in custody ever since.

In a handwritten note earlier this week, she appealed directly to Biden to step up US efforts to bring her home.

“I realize you’re dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American prisoners…” Griner wrote. “Please do everything you can to take us home.”

Biden spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday and told her he was working to get her released “as soon as possible,” the White House said. read more

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

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

“BARGAINS CHIP”

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

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

Russian authorities say there is no reason to consider Griner’s detention illegal and that the case against her is not political, despite Moscow’s strained relations with the United States over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Moscow’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that it is difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested that Washington stop talking about Griner’s fate. read more

Asked about Ryabkov’s comments, the foreign ministry said it would not comment on speculation.

“Using wrongful detention as a medium of exchange threatens the safety of anyone who travels, works and lives abroad. The United States is against this practice everywhere,” said a State Department spokesman.

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association, had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to increase her income during the WNBA off-season, as did several other American players.

Russia’s foreign ministry has said Griner can appeal her sentence or request a pardon once a verdict is handed down.

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Reporting by Reuters; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Mark Trevelyan, Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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