Friday, September 29, 2023

Brittney Griner detained in Russia: American basketball star found with cannabis oil at airport

Seven-time WNBA All-Star center Brittney Griner, 31, has been detained by the Russian Federal Customs Service after it claims to have found hashish oil in her luggage, according to the New York Times and Russian news agency TASS. She currently plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a women’s basketball team that competes in the Russian Premier League.

On March 5, Russian state TV released an undated photo of Griner taken at a police station. A Russian official was interviewed during the segment, and gave a brief statement, translated in English: “An expert determined that the liquid is a narcotic drug, cannabis oil. A criminal case has been opened against an American citizen for smuggling a significant amount of drugs.” 

When Griner’s luggage was checked at a security checkpoint at Sheremetyevo International Airport, customs allegedly found vape cartridges that contained the hashish oil. It is not known at this time whether she was exiting the country. A number of American basketball players have already left Russia and Ukraine, returning to the United States amid the ongoing war between the nations. It is unclear how long Griner has been in custody, though footage of the screening at the airport occurred in February, according to the New York Times, which suggests she may have been detained for at least three weeks. 

A criminal case has been opened into Griner, who is currently in custody and could be charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs, an offense that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia,” according to the Times. The investigation is ongoing.

The customs service did not identify Griner by name upon announcing her detention, but it did release a video of the incident, and TASS cited a law enforcement source confirming the person detained was Griner. The airport screening occurred in February, which means that Griner has likely been in custody ever since. 

The Phoenix Mercury, who selected Griner with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, commented Saturday on the developing situation.

“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. 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.”

In addition to her All-Star accolades, Griner led the Mercury to the WNBA championship in 2014. She is also a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, three-time Russian National League champion and four-time EuroLeague champion who won two Olympic gold medals and two World Cups representing Team USA.

As tensions continue to rise between the United States and Russia amid the latter nation’s invasion of Ukraine, there is certainly concern that Griner’s detainment could be used as a political tool to create leverage given her prominent status as an athlete and celebrity.

CBS Sports will update this story as the situation develops.

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