(Khimki) American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner testified Wednesday at her trial that she inadvertently brought medicinal cannabis to Russia and never intended to smuggle the drugs.
Posted at 10:22
Updated at 3:16 p.m.
Aged 31, this 2.06 meter player, considered one of the best in the world, played during the offseason for a club in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals.
She was arrested upon arriving at a Moscow airport in February in possession of a cannabis-based vaping liquid she said had been prescribed to her by a doctor.
Accused of drug smuggling, Brittney Griner faces 10 years in prison.
This trial is strongly tinged with geopolitics as tensions between Moscow and Washington are at their peak with the conflict in Ukraine. Many observers suspect Russia of using this case for a future prisoner exchange with the United States.
The United States has also made a “substantial offer” to Russia to facilitate the release of basketball player Brittney Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken revealed on Wednesday. .
“We put a substantial offer on the negotiating table several weeks ago to facilitate their release,” he told a press conference.
Dressed in a black “Phoenix” sweater – the city of her club in the United States – the player showed photos of her relatives and wife on Wednesday before the start of the hearing at the court in Khimki, near Moscow, where she has been on trial since early July.
“I did not have the idea, nor did I plan to introduce banned substances into Russia,” said the double Olympic champion, from the cage reserved for the accused, according to an AFP journalist on the spot.
She explained that she uses medicinal cannabis legally in the United States, on prescription and only on her days off, out of competition, to relieve multiple “pains” related to her intensive basketball practice.
“It’s because of all the injuries I’ve had during this long time in basketball – it goes from my back to the cartilage. And I was in a wheelchair for four months, I sprained my ankle,” she explained.
“You are guilty”
The American player claimed to have inadvertently taken these vaping cannabis cartridges with her before leaving for Russia.
“I still don’t understand how it ended up in my bag. I did not intend to break Russian law […] If I have to speculate on how it ended up in my bag, I’d say it was because I was in a rush to get my stuff done,” she said.
“She simply forgot to recheck her things,” said one of her lawyers, Alexander Boïlov, while the defense claimed that she may have suffered from memory loss because she had just suffered a violent COVID-19.
Brittney Griner also claimed that she did not follow the recommendations of the American authorities not to go to Russia at this time, because she did not want to “let down” her teammates in Russia.
Many players go to play for clubs abroad during the breaks in the American season, attracted by much higher salaries than in the United States.
The basketball player also returned to her conditions of detention after her arrest at the airport. She claims to have been detained for long hours without a telephone and a competent interpreter, before finally being able to notify her lawyer, her employer and her relatives.
“In seven years of traveling to Asia and Russia, I had never seen so many people working [dans cet aéroport] that day,” she noted.
Over the next few days, she says she was taken to court where she was asked to sign documents that were “not properly translated”. “Overall, that means you’re guilty,” she said, a Russian translator told her.
US President Joe Biden has made his release a “priority” after being accused of not doing enough on the issue.
After Wednesday’s hearing, the representative of the American Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said she was able to speak with the champion and assured that Washington would continue to follow the case closely. The next hearing is scheduled for August 2.