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Trial of US basketball star on drug charges under way near Moscow

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US basketball star Brittney Griner attends a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow. If convicted she could face 10 years in jail. Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

US basketball star Brittney Griner attends a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow. If convicted she could face 10 years in jail. Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

US basketball star Brittney Griner attends a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow. If convicted she could face 10 years in jail. Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

A Russian prosecutor yesterday accused US women’s professional basketball star Brittney Griner of transporting a “significant amount” of cannabis oil, according to Russian media reports on her trial, where she faces 10 years in prison if convicted

 Ms Griner, seated in a cage in the courtroom, said she understood the charges. She did not enter a plea.

She faces charges that she was carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her baggage at a Moscow airport in February, a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood and other US diplomats attended the hearing. 
The sports star’s case has been complicated by the severe downturn in relations between Washington and Moscow, and her supporters say she is a hostage and a political pawn.

Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims Ms Griner was a hostage, saying that drug offences are treated seriously in Russia and many other countries. 
Ms Griner’s supporters in the US have called on President Joe Biden to negotiate a prisoner swap such as the one in April, when Russia exchanged former US Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year prison sentence in Connecticut for drug trafficking.

Mr Reed had been jailed for nine years after being convicted of assault endangering the lives of police officers.

Ms Griner is one of two Americans the State Department says are being wrongfully held by Russia.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan has been in jail since December 2018, when he travelled to Moscow for a friend’s wedding and was arrested in his hotel room. He was sentenced to 16 years after being convicted of spying in a closed trial. He denies the charges and calls the case political.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday declined to comment on whether his government was seeking a prisoner exchange in this case.

In early May, the US State Department determined that Ms Griner was being wrongfully held and shifted supervision of her case to Roger Carstens, presidential envoy for hostage affairs. The department has not elaborated on the basis for the judgment.  
About a month before the invasion of Ukraine, the State Department issued a level 4 security warning to Americans, stipulating “do not travel” to Russia because of the risk of arbitrary enforcement of the law as well as tensions over Ukraine. 

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