American basketball star Brittney Griner has been sent to a penal colony in Russia to serve her sentence for drug possession, her legal team said Wednesday.
A Russian court last month rejected an appeal against her nine-year sentence. The eight-time all-star center featuring the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist was convicted on Aug. 4 after police said they found vape cans of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Her arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, and the politically charged case could lead to a high-stakes prisoner exchange between Washington and Moscow.
Griner’s legal team said she left a detention center on Nov. 4 for a penal colony — a common type of Russian prison where inmates work for a minimal fee. Her lawyers said on Wednesday they were not sure where she was or where she would end up, but expected to be notified when she would reach her final destination. Such transfers can take days.
VIEW | Court dismisses Griner’s conviction appeal:
The 32-year-old star athlete, who was detained when she returned to play for a Russian team during the WNBA’s off-season, has admitted she had the jerry cans in her luggage. But she testified that she accidentally packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intentions. Her defense team made written statements that she had been given cannabis to treat pain.
“Every minute Brittney Griner is wrongly detained in Russia is a minute too long,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “As we have said before, the US government has made an important offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and unlawful detentions of US citizens.”
The The Bharat Express News and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to trade Griner and Paul Whelan — an American serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying — for Viktor Bout. Bout is a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison term in the US and once earned the nickname ‘the merchant of death’.