WNBA star Brittney Griner to face Russian court

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WNBA star Brittney Grinerwho has been in Russian custody since February on drug charges, is due to appear in court on Monday at a pretrial hearing.

Griner taken into custody less than a week before Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine after e-cigarette cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. The Olympic champion faces up to 10 years in prison.

FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner pauses on the court during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Seattle Storm in September.  February 3, 2019 in Phoenix.

FILE – Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner pauses on the court during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Seattle Storm in September. February 3, 2019 in Phoenix.
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are justified. The Russian system differs from the American one in that acquittals can be overturned.

basketball player A trial date has yet to be announced, but is expected soon. Griner was recently ordered to remain in pre-trial detention until 2 July. The hearing must address procedural issues.

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Like many other WNBA players, Griner played overseas during the league’s off-season to earn more money. She has played ball in Russia over the past seven years.

US Department of State reclassified Griner as wrongfully detained in May after officials had previously waited for the case to pass through the Russian legal system and transferred oversight of her case to a special representative of the president’s hostage agency.

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Griner’s supporters have urged the US to conduct a prisoner exchange to secure her release.

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that she could be exchanged for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “dealer of death”. Booth is serving a 25-year sentence on charges of conspiring to kill US citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.

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FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) drives past Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker (3) during the first half of Game 1 of the WNBA Basketball Finals, Sunday, October.  October 10, 2021 in Phoenix.

FILE – Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) drives past Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker (3) during the first half of Game 1 of the WNBA Basketball Finals, Sunday, October. October 10, 2021 in Phoenix.
(AP Photo/Ralph Freso, file)

Russia has pushed for Bout’s release for years, but the difference between the Griner case and Bout’s global lethal weapons deals could make the exchange unattractive to the US.

The idea of ​​jointly exchanging Booth for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former director of the Marines and Security Services serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that the United States has repeatedly condemned as a set-up, has also been discussed a little.

But US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken He declined to reveal U.S. plans to bring Griner home when asked Sunday if a joint exchange was being considered.

“As a general suggestion … I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are illegally detained around the world in one way or another return home,” he said in a television interview, adding that he “cannot comment on any details about what we are doing, except that it is an absolute priority.”

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Britney Griner of the USA during the women's basketball semi-final match between the USA and Serbia on the fourteenth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena on August 6, 2021 in Saitama, Japan.

Britney Griner of the USA during the women’s basketball semi-final match between the USA and Serbia on the fourteenth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena on August 6, 2021 in Saitama, Japan.
(Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Griner is reportedly due to be tried and sentenced and then must apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer who specializes in international civil cases, told Russian state television RT.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.