WNBA’s Griner recounts drug trial: ‘My career is my whole life’

Khimki, Russia (AFP) – American basketball star Britney Greiner She testified at a drug possession trial in Russia that an interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said while she was detained at Moscow airport in February and that officials asked her to sign the documents, but “no one explained any of it to me.”

Grenier’s testimony came on the same day that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington had offered Russia a deal. He aims to bring home a WNBA star and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, in a sharp reversal of previous policy. Details of the proposal have not been made public, though a person familiar with the matter said the United States had offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Greiner. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Testifying for the first time at her trial, Greiner said that in addition to a poor translation at the airport, she received no explanation of her rights or contact with a lawyer during the first hours of her detention. She said she used a translation app on her phone to communicate with the customs officer.

Griner has been in custody since mid-February after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in their bags. She has pleaded guilty to the charges but says she had no criminal intent to bring them into the country and mustered in a hurry to get her back to play in a Russian basketball league during the WNBA.

At one point in her testimony, her emotional tone shifted because she said she always followed the rules and tried to never let her team down.

“My career is my whole life,” she said. “I devoted everything – time, my body, time away from my family. I spent six months out of the year away from everyone, and by a large margin of time.”

Her arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington before Russia sent troops to Ukraine later that month. The slow trial and five-month detention of Greiner drew intense criticism among her colleagues and supporters in the United States, which officially declared her “unjustly detained” – a designation that Russian officials vehemently rejected.

Greiner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Trials in Russia continue even after she pleads guilty, and there has been speculation that her admission was an attempt to move the legal process into motion in the hopes of a possible prisoner exchange.

At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Griner’s lawyers requested that she be allowed to testify outside the cage which is the standard for defendants in Russian courts, arguing that he is too small for the 6-foot-9 (206 cm) athlete to testify while standing. . The judge denied the request but allowed her to speak while she was seated.

During her testimony, the two-time Olympic gold medalist Phoenix Mercury described taking the grueling 13-hour trip to Moscow from Arizona while recovering from COVID-19. Greiner said she still doesn’t know how cannabis oil ended up in her purse, but she made it clear that she had a doctor’s recommendation to use it to treat chronic pain caused by her sports injuries.

“I still don’t understand to this day how they ended up in my bags,” Greiner said, adding that she was aware of the Russian law banning cannabis oil and that she had no intention of breaking it.

“I had no intention of using or keeping any substance banned in Russia,” Greiner said, adding that she understands the charges against her.

“With them in my bags by mistake, I take responsibility, but I did not intend to smuggle or plan to smuggle anything to Russia,” she said.

She recalled being pulled aside at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 after inspectors found cartridges.

Besides an interpreter who only provided a simple translation, Greiner said she received no explanation of her rights nor a quick call to her lawyer, but instead provided her with some papers.

“There were documents I had to sign,” she said. “I can only assume they were about the search and the cartridges.”

Greiner said the woman who presented herself as a translator only told her where to sign, but did not “explain the contents,” and “I didn’t know exactly what I was signing.”

She said her rights were “never read to me, none explained to me”.

Once, she called her “and called my wife, sports agent and translator of the club team” in Yekaterinburg, where she plays in a club in the city of the Urals.

“Nothing was ever comprehensively explained to me,” Greiner said. “There were a lot of short words – ‘sign here’ – and at that point, I felt like I was being held against my will, which is why I called my family and my agent and asked for legal representation.”

Greiner said that after several hours, she was finally allowed to turn over her personal belongings to a lawyer before being taken in handcuffs. She said she only received a quick translation of the charges against her during the investigation.

Greiner described other instances of language confusion when an interpreter struggled to correctly translate the accusations against her during a meeting with an informant.

“The translations weren’t very good,” Greiner said. “I remember one time he was throwing piles of papers he was supposed to translate for me, and he looked at them briefly and his exact words were: ‘You’re basically guilty. “

Greiner’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina, told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that Greiner had “repeatedly emphasized that she had no intention of bringing the prohibited substances into Russia.”

The next trial session is scheduled for August 2. Grenier’s trial began on July 1 in the Moscow suburb of Khimki where the airport is located, and it is unclear how long it will last. The court held five previous sessions, which were short, and she was allowed to be detained until December 20.

On Tuesday, a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the global use of medical cannabis, which is illegal in Russia. Greiner’s defense team submitted to court a letter from an American physician recommending the use of cannabis for pain relief.

Greiner said Wednesday that she has used medical cannabis to relieve pain due to injuries she sustained during her career, adding that it is widely used in the United States because it has fewer negative effects than some other painkillers.

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use in parts of the United States has no bearing on what happens in Russia.

Elizabeth Rudd, a charge d’affaires at the US Embassy who was attending the trial, said US officials “will continue to closely monitor Ms. Greiner’s condition, as well as that of all US citizens who are detained or imprisoned in Russia.”

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this story.