RIGA, Latvia — A Russian prosecutor on Friday accused WNBA star Brittney Griner of transporting a “significant amount” of cannabis oil, according to Russian media reports on her trial, where she faces 10 years in prison if convicted.
Griner arrived at the courtroom in the Moscow suburb of Khimki wearing handcuffs and a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt to face charges that she was carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her baggage at a Moscow airport in February, a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“According to the expert’s conclusion, the detected substance is cannabis oil, which is subject to control on the territory of the Russian Federation and is classified as a narcotic drug,” the prosecutor told the court, according to Russian BFM radio.
Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boikov, who spoke briefly to reporters after the case adjourned, said a customs official who searched Griner’s bag gave evidence to the court Friday.
He said Griner did not make any comment on the charges, reserving the right to do so later. Another of her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, said Griner had “no complaints over the conditions of her detention.”
The court adjourned until July 7 to hear more evidence from witnesses.
Griner has been in custody since February and will remain there until December, pending the outcome of her trial. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood and other U.S. diplomats attended her hearing.
Rood said that the United States was working “at the highest levels” to bring home Griner and all other Americans wrongfully detained around the globe.
“We care deeply about this case and about Ms. Griner’s welfare, as do so many Americans, and as we do with all U.S. citizen prisoners overseas. We were able to speak to Ms. Griner in the courtroom today. She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances,” Rood said in an emailed statement.
Griner’s case has been complicated by the severe downturn in relations between Washington and Moscow, and her supporters say she is a hostage and political pawn.
“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood’s statement added. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied there were any political motives behind the trial.
“I can only operate with facts. The facts show that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. Russian legislation does have laws that provide for punishments for such crimes,” Peskov said.
Peskov last week dismissed claims Griner was a hostage, saying that drug offenses are treated seriously in Russia and many other countries. “We cannot call her a hostage. Why should we call her a hostage?” he said.
Griner’s supporters in the United States have called on President Biden to negotiate a prisoner swap like one in April, when Russia exchanged former Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year prison sentence in Connecticut for drug trafficking. Reed had been jailed for nine years after being convicted of assault endangering the lives of police officers.
Griner is one of two Americans that the State Department says are being wrongfully held by Russia. Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan has been in jail since December 2018, when he traveled to Moscow for a friend’s wedding and was arrested in his hotel room. He was sentenced to 16 years after being convicted of spying in a closed trial. He denies the charges and calls the case political.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that freeing wrongfully held Americans such as Whelan and Griner was his highest priority.
“I’ve got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home, and that includes Paul Whelan and that includes Brittney Griner,” he said in an interview with CNN, declining to comment on whether the U.S. government was seeking a prisoner exchange involving Whelan and Griner.
Russian media have speculated that Washington could exchange Griner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in the United States for conspiring to sell surface-to-air missiles to a foreign terrorist group and conspiring to kill U.S. citizens. Bout, the inspiration for the Nicholas Cage film “Lord of War,” allegedly smuggled arms to warlords in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia for years — sometimes arming both sides in a conflict — until his 2008 arrest in Thailand and 2010 extradition to the United States. Russia calls Bout’s arrest and conviction “unlawful and political” and has been demanding his release since 2008.
According to Russian customs officials, Griner was stopped at Sheremetyevo International Airport when a sniffer dog “indicated that drugs may be in the carry-on luggage of a United States citizen,” a reference to Griner.
Customs officials said they found vapes in her luggage, which were later analyzed and found to contain cannabis oil. The customs agency posted video of the airport search apparently taken from surveillance cameras.
In early May, the State Department determined that Griner was being wrongfully held and shifted supervision of her case to Roger Carstens, presidential envoy for hostage affairs. The department has not elaborated on the basis for the judgment.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said at the time that the department weighed the circumstances in each case, “whether it’s the case of Brittney Griner, whether it’s the case of Paul Whelan, whether it’s the case of Americans in Iran. There are going to be unique factors in each and every one of those cases.”
Price said Griner was “fortunate to have a network who has supported her from day one,” adding that the department had worked closely with her backers.
About a month before the invasion of Ukraine, the State Department issued a Level 4 security warning to Americans, stipulating “do not travel” to Russia because of the risk of arbitrary enforcement of the law and harassment by Russian officials, as well as tensions over Ukraine. It warned that State Department officials had a limited ability to help U.S. citizens in Russia.
“Russian officials have unreasonably delayed U.S. consular assistance to detained U.S. citizens and have arrested U.S. citizens on spurious charges, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and have convicted them in secret trials and/or without presenting evidence,” the warning read.
Michael Avenatti sentenced to 14 years in prison for cheating clients out of millions
Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Monday for cheating four former clients out of millions of dollars and trying to obstruct the IRS from collecting payroll taxes from a coffee shop that he owned.
It caps off a stunning fall from grace for the former attorney, who is already serving five years in prison for stealing book proceeds from porn actress Stormy Daniels and trying to extort Nike out of $25 million.
The 14-year sentence handed down on Monday will run consecutively to the five years that he is already serving in previous cases, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna ruled.
Avenatti, who addressed his victims in court on Monday, was also ordered to pay $7 million in restitution.
“I am deeply remorseful and contrite,” Avenatti said in court before the sentencing. “There is no doubt that all of them deserve much better, and I hope that someday they will accept my apologies and find it in their heart to forgive me.”
Prosecutors laid out in a 36-count indictment how Avenatti collected a $4 million settlement from Los Angeles County for a man who was paralyzed from injuries he sustained while in custody of law enforcement. Avenatti used the funds for his coffee business and personal expenses, paying the man “advances” of no more than $1,900 at a time.
Avenatti obtained a $3 million settlement for another client in early 2017 and used most of the money for a private jet, then lied to the client by saying the settlement would be paid out in monthly payments over several years.
Prosecutors also said that Avenatti stole from clients whom he represented in an intellectual property claim and another business dispute.
For the tax fraud charge, Avenatti failed to pay more than $3 million in payroll taxes related to his coffee business then tried to stop the IRS from collecting the unpaid taxes.
Prosecutor Brett Sagel characterized Avenatti as a serial fraudster.
“He didn’t turn to his criminal actions by desperation, by need, by the inability to do anything else,” Sagel told the court. “Despite the significant advantages that this defendant had — a first-rate education, a thriving legal career — he chose to commit the deplorable acts in this case time and time again.”
Prosecutors agreed to drop remaining charges after Avenatti pleaded guilty to five counts earlier this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
World Cup 2022: Fifa opens disciplinary proceedings against Uruguay FA and four players
|Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listings – Full coverage details|
Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Uruguay’s football association and four players over their conduct at the end of their final World Cup group game against Ghana.
Uruguay beat Ghana 2-0 but went out on goals scored, finishing third behind South Korea in Group H.
Uruguay’s players reacted furiously at full-time, confronting the referee and appearing to manhandle an assistant after they failed to award a penalty after a coming together between Darwin Nunez and Alidu Seidu.
Jose Maria Gimenez, Edinson Cavani, Fernando Muslera and Diego Godin all face potential punishments for breaches of Fifa’s disciplinary code relating to offensive behaviour and misconduct.
More to follow.
Get your daily dose of Fifa World Cup reaction, debate & analysis with World Cup Daily on BBC Sounds
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