(CNN) — Brittney Griner’s legal team has filed an appeal against a Russian court’s verdict sentencing the WNBA star to nine years in prison for smuggling drugs into Russia, Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina told CNN on Monday.
The US State Department maintains Griner is wrongfully detained, and her case has raised concerns she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine. US officials have offered a potential prisoner swap with Russia to try to bring her home safely.
Griner, 31, was detained in February for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry.
The nine-year sentence, along with a fine of about $16,400, was issued August 4 by Khimki city court Judge Anna Sotnikova, who said the court took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse for the deed, state of health and charitable activities.
Paul Whelan also said to be part of swap talks
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s name has been mentioned in bilateral talks between Moscow and Washington over a prisoner swap involving Griner and American Paul Whelan, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department Alexander Darchiev told Russian state media TASS on Saturday. Whelan has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018.
“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our Presidents. These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle,” Darchiev said to TASS.
Darchiev was responding to a request for comment on US news reports that US officials had sent a proposal to Moscow on swapping Bout for Griner and Whelan, TASS reported.
During months of internal discussions among US agencies, the Justice Department opposed trading Bout, people briefed on the matter say. However, Justice officials eventually accepted a Bout trade has the support of top officials at the State Department and White House, including President Joe Biden, sources say.
The Russian government has frequently floated Bout as the subject of a potential trade for a number of Americans. Bout’s attorney has said he is “confident” the exchange will happen.
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