The Russian Prosecutor's Office on Thursday demanded nine and a half prison sentences for American basketball star Brittney Griner, detained in Russia on cannabis trafficking charges, amid tensions between Moscow and Washington.
Since her arrest in February at a Moscow airport, a few days before the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the double Olympic champion has been immersed in the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States.< /p>
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 a “substantial” offer to Moscow.
“I ask that Griner be found guilty and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison in a colony [penitentiary] with a classic regime, ”said prosecutor Nikolai Vlassenko, according to an AFP journalist present at the court in Khimki, near Moscow.< /p>
This is almost the maximum possible requisition for this crime, set at 10 years in prison. The prosecutor also requested that the player be ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles (approximately C$21,000 at the current rate).
The court's decision is expected to come early Thursday evening.< /p>
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, she was once again brought handcuffed to the courtroom, wearing a gray t-shirt, before being placed in the cage with bars reserved for the defendants. Before the start of the hearing, she held up in front of the reporters a photo of herself surrounded by her basketball teammates in Russia.
“Professional and dedicated”
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.
She had been arrested at the airport with cannabis vaping liquid. She admitted having been in possession of this substance, however claiming to have brought it to Russia by mistake.
She especially refuted any trafficking, stressing that this small quantity of substance was only for her consumption personal, for analgesic purposes, because she suffers from chronic pain like many athletes.
On Thursday, the prosecutor assured him that she had knowingly tried to “hide” the cannabis-based liquid from customs officers at the airport.
A lawyer for the player, Maria Blagovolina, asked court to acquit the American player, pointing out the small amount of incriminated liquid brought by Griner to Russia.
“If the court decides to [convict her] anyway, then I ask her to take consider all mitigating circumstances and impose a lighter sentence,” said the lawyer.
“Anyone who knows Brittney commends her professionalism and dedication,” added her other lawyer, Alexander Boikov.
Russian arms dealer
A The player's conviction would legally pave the way for a possible prisoner exchange.
On Friday, the head of the American diplomacy Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov had their first discussions since the start of the offensive from Moscow to Ukraine.
Blinken said he pressed his counterpart to accept Washington's 'substantial offer' to Moscow to secure the release of Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage.
According to several American media, it would be a question of exchanging a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, against Mrs. Griner and Mr. Whelan.
Mr. Bout, arrested in Thailand in 2008 and serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, is nicknamed the “merchant of death”. His extraordinary career was one of the inspirations for the film Lord of War in which Nicolas Cage plays a most cynical arms dealer.
No deal has for the time being reported and the Kremlin appeared irritated after Washington's public statements about the negotiations.
Ms Blagovolina, Griner's lawyer, said on Tuesday that the defense of the player was not involved in the negotiations, adding that the player only hoped for one thing: “To be able to go home.”