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WNBA Player Brittney Griner Detained In Russia On Drug Charges

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WNBA Player Brittney Griner Detained In Russia On Drug Charges

WNBA player Brittney Griner was arrested on drug charges in Russia in February and seems to still be detained in the country.

The Russian Federal Customs Service issued a statement on Saturday saying that a United States citizen who is a gold-medal-winning basketball player was detained in Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow last month after customs workers said they found vapes containing cannabis oil in her luggage. 

Multiple Russian news outlets, including TASS and Lenta.ru, later identified the basketball player as Griner. Additionally, a video released by the customs service appeared to be Griner, The New York Times reported.

The statement said officials have opened a criminal drug smuggling case against the athlete. The offense carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison.

Griner, 31, is a center for the Phoenix Mercuryand won gold medals with the U.S. women’s national basketball team in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.

“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia,” the Phoenix Mercury said in a statement. “We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, told the Times she could not comment “on the specifics” of the case but she is “in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams” and the WNBA and NBA, and all were working to “get her home.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted on Instagram thanking fans for their support. “Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. … Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”

For several years, Griner has played for the Russian basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburgduring the U.S. off season. WNBA players often play in Russia, where the pay is better, when they are not competing for their American teams. 

The announcement about Griner comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate and Russia faces harsh sanctions from the West. As tensions mount between Russia and the United States, the Times noted that Griner’s arrest may be an attempt to generate leverage for a prisoner exchange.

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