By Jim Heintz Associated Press
More than four months after being detained at an airport in Moscow, RussiaAmerican basketball star Brittney Griner will appear in court on Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial for possession of cannabis.
The Phoenix Mercury player, considered in some polls to be America’s most gifted female athlete, could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on large-scale drug transportation charges. Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the United States, acquittals can be overturned.
Moscow’s Khimki City Court is scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing in Brittney Griner’s case at 2 pm (7 am ET) before Judge Anna Sotnikova, the court confirmed in its documents.
The trial date has not been announced, but is expected to be soon. Griner was recently ordered to remain in pretrial detention until July 2. The court hearing in the Moscow suburb of Khimki is due to address procedural issues.
Griner’s arrest and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in relations between Moscow and Washington. She was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions with sweeping US sanctions and Russia’s denunciation of US arms supplies to Ukraine. Ukraine.
Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had flown under the radar in hopes of a quiet resolution — until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. , who is actually the US government’s chief negotiator.
This move has drawn more attention to the Griner case, with his supporters encouraging a prisoner swap like the one that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in April for a Russian pilot convicted of drug-trafficking conspiracy.
The Russian media have repeatedly speculated that she might be exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed The Merchant of Deathwho is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Russia has been calling for Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case — who was allegedly found in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global deals in deadly weapons could make such a trade unpalatable for the United States.
Others have suggested she could be traded along with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence for an espionage sentence that the United States has repeatedly described as staged.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked on Sunday on CNN if a joint trade of Griner and Whelan for Bout was under consideration, he dodged the question.
“As a general proposition … I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in detail on what we’re doing, other than to say it’s a top priority,” he added.
Any swap would appear to require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, and then apply for a presidential pardon, according to Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, on the Kremlin-funded RT television channel.
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Brittney Griner appears in a Russian court for a preliminary hearing