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Griner Gets Nine Years For Cannabis

FILE: WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner speaks to her lawyers standing in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow. Taken 7.26.2022

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison after she was found guilty of smuggling and storing narcotics, AFP heard in court.

Griner will spend a "total of nine years" in a Russian penal colony", judge Anna Sotnikova told the court, adding that the 31-year-old athlete will also have to pay a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590).

Griner was charged and tried for drug smuggling - possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil - were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

The prosecutor said Griner "deliberately" proceeded through the green corridor at customs and stated she had nothing to declare "in order to conceal" the substance.

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

The WNBA star said she had permission from a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her many injuries -- "from spine to cartilages."

US basketball star Brittney Griner's defense team said Thursday it will appeal the verdict, which U.S, President Joe Biden called "Unacceptable."

"Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It's unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates," Biden said in a statement.

Griner's attorneys reacted to the sentencing with "The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea," the defense team said in a statement. "The verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal."

The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and Women's NBA champion was detained in February, when she came to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US off-season -- a common path for American stars seeking additional income.

Her case has raised speculation about a potential prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Washington had made a "substantial proposal" to Moscow to free Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was imprisoned on espionage charges.

The swap was also discussed during a call between Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday.

The highest-profile Russian prisoner in the United States is Victor Bout, a 55-year-old arms trafficker, dubbed the "Merchant of Death", who is serving 25 years in jail.

There is no official confirmation that Washington has offered to exchange him.

Russia and the United States have already conducted one prisoner swap since the start of Moscow's Ukraine offensive.

In April, Washington exchanged former US Marine Trevor Reed for convicted drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.