A Russian court on Thursday sentenced American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for drug trafficking, a heavy sentence described as “unacceptable” by Joe Biden, which opens the way for a possible prisoner exchange between Moscow and Washington.
Arrested in February in Moscow with a vaporizer containing cannabis-based liquid, shortly before the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the double Olympic champion was caught up in the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States.
Her trial has accelerated in recent days as the two countries negotiate a prisoner swap that the player could be part of, with Washington claiming to have recently made an offer “consequent” in Moscow.
“The court found the defendant guilty” of illegal possession and drug trafficking, said judge Anna Sotnikova, according to an AFP journalist present at the court in Khimki, near Moscow.
As a result, the basketball player was sentenced to “nine years in prison in a penal colony” and a fine of one million rubles (about 16,000 euros at the current rate), she added.
“This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, relatives and teammates”urged US President Joe Biden in a statement immediately after the verdict was announced.
Griner’s attorneys have announced their decision to appeal the verdict. “completely insane”.
The player listened to the judge’s statement with her face lowered, locked in the cage reserved for the defendants in the courtroom.
“I made a mistake in good faith and I hope the judgment will not end my life here,” Griner pleaded in his last speech before the court’s decision was announced.
Aged 31 and measuring 2.06 meters, Griner is considered one of the best basketball players in the world. Since the start of the trial, she has appeared focused, answering the court’s questions calmly and with precision.
Thursday, before the start of the hearing, she held up to reporters a photo of herself surrounded by her basketball teammates in Russia.
The Phoenix Mercury player had come to Russia to play during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often earn more money abroad than in the United States.