American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner testified Wednesday at her trial that she inadvertently brought medicinal cannabis to Russia and never intended to smuggle the drugs.
Aged 31, the 2.06 meter player is considered one of the best in the world. She was arrested at a Moscow airport in February in possession of a cannabis-based vaping liquid that she said had been prescribed to her by a doctor.
Accused of drug smuggling, Brittney Griner faces 10 years in prison.
This trial is strongly tinged with geopolitics as tensions between Moscow and Washington are at their peak with the conflict in Ukraine. Many observers suspect Russia of using this case for a future prisoner exchange with the United States.
Dressed in a black “Phoenix” sweater – the city of her club in the United States – the player showed photos of her relatives and wife on Wednesday before the start of the hearing at the Khimki court, near Moscow, where she has been on trial since early July.
“I did not have the idea, nor did I plan to introduce banned substances into Russia,” said the double Olympic champion, from the cage reserved for the accused, according to an AFP journalist on the spot.
She explained that she uses medicinal cannabis legally in the United States, on prescription and only on her days off, out of competition, to relieve multiple “pains” related to her intensive basketball practice.
“It’s because of all the injuries I had during this long period of basketball – it goes from my back to the cartilage. And I was in a wheelchair for 4 months, I had sprained my ankle” , she detailed.
– Involuntary omission –
The American player assured that she had not intentionally taken these cartridges of cannabis for vaping with her before leaving for Russia, where she played during the offseason for a club in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals.
“I still don’t understand how it ended up in my bag. I had no intention of breaking Russian law… If I have to speculate on how it ended up in my bag, I would say it was because I was in a rush to do my business,” she said.
“She simply forgot to recheck her things,” said one of her lawyers, Alexander Boïlov, while the defense claimed that she may have suffered from memory loss because she had just suffered a violent Covid.
Brittney Griner also claimed that she did not follow the recommendations of the American authorities not to go to Russia at this time, because she did not want to “let down” her teammates in Russia.
Many players go to play for clubs abroad during the breaks in the American season, attracted by salaries much higher than in the United States.
The basketball player also returned to her conditions of detention after her arrest at the airport. She claims to have been detained for long hours without a telephone and a competent interpreter, before finally being able to notify her lawyer, her employer and her relatives.
“In seven years of traveling to Asia and Russia, I had never seen so many people working (at this airport) on this day,” she noted.
US President Joe Biden has made his release a “priority” after being accused of not doing enough on the issue.
After Wednesday’s hearing, the representative of the American Embassy in Russia, Elizabeth Rood, said she was able to speak with the champion and assured that Washington would continue to follow the case closely. The next hearing is scheduled for August 2.