By Roz Edward
After spending more than five months in a Russian jail, WNBA star Brittney Griner has conceded and pleaded guilty to what many say are wrongful drug charges in a Moscow court earlier today. The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist recently stated in a letter to President Joe Biden that she was fearful that she would never be released from the Russian prison.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said in English, per Reuters, which was then translated into Russian for the court.
The Biden administration however has classied of Griner’s detainment in Russia as “wrongful.”
Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison under the charge.
Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after Russian officials say they found cannabis oil in her luggage. The basketball star, who plays in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason, has been held since then on drug smuggling charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Her trial began last week.
“This is a serious offense, confirmed by indisputable evidence … Attempts to present the case as if the American was detained illegally do not hold up,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said Wednesday, June 6.
“The law has been violated, and arguments about the innocent nature of Griner’s addiction, which, by the way, is punishable in some U.S. states, are inappropriate in this case,” he said.
While there has been much speculation about the State department’s handling of the incident to avoid Griner becoming a political prisoner under the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in early June, a State Department official sent a statement to ESPN saying, “The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner.”
Russian news media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Griner’s next hearing is set for July 14.