Russian basketball boss defends Griner
Khimki – A Russian basketball club director gave evidence in support of American basketballer Brittney Griner on Thursday in her third appearance in a Russian court on drugs charges carrying a possible jail sentence of up to 10 years.
Defence lawyer Maria Blagovolina said UMMC Yekaterinburg club boss Maxim Ryabkov testified to her good character during the hearing, which was closed to reporters.
She said Ryabkov told the court of Griner’s “outstanding abilities as a player and personal contribution to strengthening team spirit”.
Team captain Yevgenia Belyakova also testified in Griner’s defence at the court in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, where Griner had earlier arrived under guard and in handcuffs.
Blagovolina, of law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners, said the defence was pleased with the latest session.
“It was an extremely emotional day for Brittney, who was touched by the appearance of the club director, head physician and her teammate, who gave an extremely positive description of our client both personally and professionally,” she told Reuters.
Griner, who has played in Russia during the WNBA off seasons for the past eight years, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 after vape cartridges containing hashish oil were allegedly found in her baggage.
At a hearing last week, the two-time Olympic gold medallist pleaded guilty to the drugs charges, but said she had not intended to break the law. A spokesman for Griner’s defence team said she would be back in court on Friday.
Russia denied any political element to the case, at a time of heightened tension with the United States over the conflict in Ukraine.
Amid suggestions Griner could be exchanged for a Russian citizen jailed in the United States, a Russian deputy foreign minister said last week that the “hype” surrounding her case was not helpful.