Russia will open a lawsuit against American basketball star Griner

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Brittney Griner of the United States congratulates a teammate during their women’s basketball gold medal game against Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on 8 August 2021. Picture taken August 8, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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  • Griner in custody since February
  • The case coincides with the Russian-American standoff over Ukraine
  • US officials and athletes call for his release

June 30 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner is on trial in Russia on Friday on drug trafficking charges that could land her up to 10 years in prison, in a case that highlights already strained relations between Moscow and Washington .

Griner, a US-based Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star player, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking a broader confrontation with the West.

Russian authorities said the 31-year-old was carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil, an illegal substance in the country. She was charged with smuggling a large amount of drugs, an offense that could result in up to 10 years in prison.

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US officials and about 20 athletes have called for the release of Griner – or “BG” as he is known in the basketball community. They say she was wrongfully detained and should be immediately returned to her family in the United States.

Griner’s detention has also raised concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medalist to negotiate the release of a top Russian from US custody.

The U.S. government has warned citizens against travel to Russia in light of “the potential for harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.”

The Kremlin said Griner violated Russian laws and denied she was being held hostage amid the Russia-US clash.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that there was “no greater priority” than bringing Griner and other “illegally detained” Americans overseas.

Griner plays center for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star.

For years, Griner played for UMMC Yekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA offseason, like several other American players who were offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League.

Griner’s detention, combined with the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, prompted several foreign players to leave the Russian league.

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Reuters reporting; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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