(Bloomberg) –A Russian court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by WNBA star Brittney Griner against her nine-year sentence for drug smuggling, Interfax reported.
The ruling means Griner, 32, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, will leave pre-trial detention near Moscow and be sent to serve her prison term in a penal colony elsewhere in Russia.
President Joe Biden has made a priority of securing the release of Griner and another jailed American in Russia, former US Marine Paul Whelan. Amid a vocal campaign from the basketball star’s supporters, the US leader has denounced Griner’s prison sentence as “unacceptable.”
The US has accused Russia of dragging its feet on a prisoner-swap deal. In August, it offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “merchant of death,” who in 2012 was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and a second Russian also held in a US jail, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Biden Meets Griner, Whelan Families as Russia Sits on Swap Offer
Griner, a Phoenix Mercury basketball star who played in Russia during the off-season, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after customs officials said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling and a court sentenced her to nine years in prison.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in jail in Russia in 2020 on spying charges that he denies. He was arrested in December 2018 while attending a wedding in Moscow after receiving a flash drive with “state secrets” that he said he thought contained holiday pictures.
In April, despite a rupture in ties following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the authorities in Moscow and Washington exchanged jailed former US Marine Trevor Reed for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko in a carefully orchestrated swap at a Turkish airfield.
Yaroshenko was serving a 20-year sentence in the US imposed in 2011 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine. Reed was serving nine years in Russia after being convicted in 2020 of assaulting two police officers.
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