Russian court docket jails US basketball participant Brittney Griner for 9 years on drug expenses | Brittney Griner

A Moscow court docket has convicted the US basketball participant Brittney Griner on drug expenses, sentencing her to 9 years in jail and a 1m rouble wonderful in a politically charged verdict that would result in a prisoner swap with the US.

Griner, a basketball expertise who performed in Russia throughout off-seasons from the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested for hashish possession at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February.

Her arrest passed off days earlier than Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting frantic backdoor negotiations between the US and Russian intelligence companies as her trial performed out in a small courthouse simply outdoors the Moscow metropolis limits.

Her formal conviction, which was a foregone conclusion, is a mandatory step had been a prisoner trade to happen. US officers say Russia desires to swap Griner and Paul Whelan, a former US marine arrested on spying expenses in 2020, for the convicted arms seller Viktor Bout.

A handcuffed Griner mentioned, “I really like my household,” as she was led out of a Russian courtroom.

“She’s very upset,” mentioned Maria Blagovolina, a lawyer for Griner. “Very upset, very burdened. She will hardly speak. It’s a troublesome time for her.” Griner had referred to the upcoming sentencing as “doomsday”, Blagovolina mentioned. “It seems she was proper.”

“Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” mentioned the US president, Joe Biden. “It’s unacceptable, and I name on Russia to launch her instantly so she could be together with her spouse, family members, pals and teammates.” The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, mentioned he was “dedicated to making sure we do all the pieces we will to carry house Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan as quickly as potential”.

Griner’s defence workforce mentioned they had been “upset” by the decision and would enchantment. It’s unlikely any swap could be made earlier than the appeals course of is exhausted.

Though she pleaded responsible to the drug expenses, the US has categorized Griner as “wrongfully detained”, launching a course of much like hostage negotiations with Iran and different nations. A senior US embassy official attended Thursday’s listening to and verdict, the place police spetsnaz (particular forces) and bomb-sniffing canine patrolled the hallways.

Prosecutors requested for a nine-and-a-half-year jail sentence for Griner and a hefty wonderful, practically the utmost in her case. Legal professionals mentioned they thought-about Griner’s sentence extraordinarily harsh, noting that many Russians arrested in comparable circumstances are served suspended sentences on parole.

In an emotional closing assertion on Thursday, Griner apologised to her teammates and instructed the courtroom that she had made an “trustworthy mistake”, including: “That’s the reason I pled responsible to my expenses however I had no intent of breaking the legislation.”

She additionally rejected the political implications of her case, making an emotional enchantment on to the choose, Anna Sotnikova.

“I do know everyone hold speaking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics’, however I hope that’s removed from this courtroom,” she mentioned, asking for leniency. In the long run, it was not proven.

Her authorized workforce additionally mentioned they might not have interaction within the political facets of the case, saying that was as much as the US embassy and authorities.

Prosecutors within the Russian court docket mentioned Griner’s arrest on drug expenses was “absolutely confirmed”. Her defence legal professionals pointed towards irregularities within the investigation and described the pressures on the basketball star, whom they in comparison with the sprinter Usain Bolt.

A conviction is normally required in circumstances that would result in a prisoner trade, as a result of it might enable the Kremlin to problem a pardon or scale back a sentence with out blatantly interfering in an ongoing trial.

A lawyer for Whelan instructed the Guardian on Thursday that he was “positive {that a} commerce will ultimately be made”, however added {that a} ultimate settlement didn’t appear to have been reached. He claimed that the US mentioned Russia provided a commerce for Bout in 2020 shortly after Whelan’s conviction on spying expenses.

Russia is alleged to be looking for the liberty of Bout, who’s believed to have armed the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the Revolutionary United Entrance in Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia, Unita in Angola, numerous Congolese factions, and Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamist group within the Philippines.

He was arrested at a luxurious resort in Bangkok in a US sting operation and was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in jail. His case has turn out to be an unlikely trigger celebre amongst some senior Russian officers.

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Russia has already exchanged Trevor Reed, a former marine arrested in Moscow, for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot who was held for practically a decade within the US on a drug smuggling conviction. The trade at an airfield in Turkey recalled a chilly conflict thriller, as the 2 males walked previous one another to board planes again to their respective nations.

Griner has additionally mentioned that she is “terrified” of being saved in Russia “for ever”.

“I by no means meant to harm anyone,” Griner mentioned in her closing assertion. “I by no means meant to place in jeopardy the Russian inhabitants. I by no means meant to interrupt any legal guidelines right here. I made an trustworthy mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t finish my life right here.”