American basketball player Brittney Griner will be detained in Russia for at least another month following her arrest on drug smuggling charges.
Griner, 31, was arrested on February 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport after officials allegedly discovered two vape cartridges in her luggage containing hashish oil. ‘Hash oil’ is an illegal substance in Russia, the punishment for which could carry a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Nearly three months following her arrest, the Phoenix Mercury center—who also represents UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Premier League —is still waiting to go to trial. Her lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told the Associated Press the relatively short extension period suggested her case could be heard soon, however.
“The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of detention of U.S. citizen Griner until June 18,” confirmed the court, according to Russian news agency TASS. A statement provided to CNN claimed Griner had been “caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil.”
A former college star at Baylor, Griner was drafted by Phoneix in 2013 and is recognised as one of the biggest names in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She’s also won two Olympic gold medals with the United States, leading her country to victory at Rio 2016 before successfully defending their crown in Tokyo last year.
Griner’s detention has been criticised by U.S. officials, who contend the athlete has been “wrongfully imprisoned” and should be released. Tensions between Russia and the West are at a high amid the former’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Tass also cited an unnamed government official in the Public Monitoring Commission, who said talks are underway for Griner to be traded for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Bout—who earned the moniker ‘The Merchant of Death’—was arrested as part of a 2008 sting operation in Thailand, after which he was extradited to the U.S. and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Bout, 55, was charged with conspiracy to deliver weapons to a terrorist organization based in Colombia. The public outcry for Griner’s release has been widespread, but her arrest offers Russia a big opportunity to recover one of their assets via the exchange.
“I want to take a moment to reiterate the WNBA’s support for Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner,” the WNBA commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, said in an April statement. “Please know that getting her home safely continues to be our top priority and while we are facing an extraordinarily complex challenge, there is strength in community, especially the WNBA.”