MOSCOW (AP) – Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner have filed an appeal against her nine-year Russian prison conviction for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported on Monday, amid talks between the United States and Russia that could lead to a high-profile prisoner swap.
Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced Aug. 4 after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
Griner admitted she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she inadvertently hastily packed them and had no criminal intent. His defense team presented written statements that he was prescribed cannabis to treat the pain.
His arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she is playing in the American League offseason.
Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal had been filed, as expected, but the grounds were not immediately clear.
The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum, and Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after sentencing that the sentence was excessive. They said that in similar cases, the defendants received an average sentence of about five years, and about a third of them were granted parole.
Prior to her sentencing, the US State Department declared Griner “wrongfully detained” – a charge Russia has firmly denied.
Reflecting mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly revealing in July that Washington had made a “substantial offer.” to bring Griner home, with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
Blinken did not give details, but the Associated Press and other news outlets reported that Washington had offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States and who once earned the nickname “Merchant of Death”. .”
On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said talks on a swap had been held.
“This rather sensitive issue of the exchange of convicted Russian and American citizens is being discussed through the channels set by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told the agency. official Tass press release. “These individuals are indeed being discussed. The Russian side has been calling for the release of Viktor Bout for a long time. The details should be left to the professionals.”