WASHINGTON – A Russian court on Thursday found Britney Grenier guilty of drug charges and sentenced her to nine years in prison as the US government seeks to secure the release of the WNBA star.
The court also fined Griner 1 million rubles ($16,301).
The 31-year-old Greiner, who plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA Outdoor Championship, was arrested in February at a Russian airport for smuggling vape cartridges with hemp oil.
Under Russian law, the charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. During the closing arguments, the Russian prosecutors asked the court to sentence her to 9 and a half years in prison and to issue a fine of one million rubles.
Greiner asked the court for leniency earlier on Thursday.
“I never meant to hurt anyone,” Greiner said after closing arguments, according to NBC News. “I never meant to endanger the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here.”
Her lawyers previously said Greiner only used cannabis medicinally and had never used it while in Russia.
Last month, Greiner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she inadvertently packed cannabis into her bag because she was in a hurry.
The court’s decision comes a week after the Biden administration confirmed it Make an offer to the Russian government For the release of Greiner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. In a statement Thursday, President Joe Biden He called the prison sentence “unacceptable” and called for Grenier’s immediate release.
“It is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden wrote in a statement.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and seek every avenue possible to bring Britney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” the president added.
Last week, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters that the United States had “put a substantive proposal on the table weeks ago” to release Grenier and Whelan. The top US diplomat also said he would discuss the offer with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in what would be the first known conversation between the two since then. The Kremlin invaded Ukraine.
“This is a sensitive business,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a White House briefing. “We have made a proposal, and we urge the Russians to act positively on that proposal so that we can bring these two people home.”
“I think it’s best to leave the details of that between us and our Russian counterparts,” Kirby said.
American basketball star Britney Greiner stands inside a cage of defendants before a hearing at Khimki Courthouse, outside Moscow on July 26, 2022.
Alexander Zemlianchenko | AFP | Getty Images
Days before she pleaded guilty last month, Greiner wrote a letter to Biden asking for his direct assistance in her case.
“Sitting here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any accomplishments, I am terrified to be here forever,” the professional athlete wrote in July. 5 characters.
“I realize you’re dealing with a lot,” Greiner wrote, “but please don’t forget me and…the other American detainees. Please do everything in your power to bring us home.”
After receiving the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the wife of the WNBA star, Cheryl Greiner. Biden also wrote in response to Griner hand-delivered by US diplomats in Moscow.
Biden reassured his wife that he is working to secure Greiner’s release as soon as possible, according to a reading of the call released by the White House. He also said on the call that he was working on the release of Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of working as a spy for the United States. At the time of his arrest, Whelan was visiting Russia for a wedding, according to his brother David Whelan.
Last month, Biden signed an executive order that expands the tools available to the administration to deter hostage-taking and the unlawful detention of US citizens.
Executive order known as “Strengthening efforts to repatriate hostages and wrongful detention of US citizensIt will authorize the imposition of financial penalties and visa bans on persons involved in the hostage-taking.
“This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment not only to issues in general but to families in particular, and has been communicated through the government’s regular engagements with them,” a senior Biden administration official said last month, speaking on condition of anonymity. In order to share details about the new executive order.
In April, Russia agreed to release former US Marine Trevor Reed In a prisoner exchange with the United States.
Reade was accused of assaulting a Russian police officer and authorities arrested him there in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Read and his family maintained his innocence, and the US government called him unjustly imprisoned.
To release Read, Biden agreed to release Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.