U.S. basketball star Griner pleads guilty to drugs charge in Russian court
KHIMKI, Russia -U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner pleaded guilty in a Russian court on Thursday to drugs charges that could see her face 10 years in prison, a Reuters journalist reported from the courtroom, but said she had not deliberately broken the law.
Griner’s family have called on U.S. President Joe Biden to step up efforts to secure the WNBA star’s release.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said, speaking English which was then translated into Russian for the court.
“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added.
The next court hearing was scheduled for July 14.
Griner was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a substance illegal in the country, and has been kept in custody since.
In a handwritten note, Griner appealed to Biden directly earlier this week to step up U.S. efforts to bring her home.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees…” Griner wrote. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”
Biden spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday, telling her he was working to have her released “as soon as possible”, the White House said.
U.S. 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.
Griner’s detention has also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian citizen in U.S. custody.
Russian authorities say there is no basis to consider Griner’s detention illegal and that the case against her is not political despite Moscow’s fraught relations with United States over the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that it was difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested Washington stop talking about the fate of Griner.
Griner, a centre 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 boost her income during the WNBA off-season, like several other U.S. players.
The Russian foreign ministry has said Griner could appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been delivered.