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US Olympic basketball star appears in Russian court on drug charges as trial date set

US basketball star Brittney Griner has been ordered to stand trial in Russia on Friday on cannabis possession charges.

The double gold Olympian and Phoenix Mercury star, 31, appeared at a brief hearing on Monday more than four months after her arrest at a Moscow airport where she was allegedly carrying multiple cannabis oil cartridges.

She could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs.

Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and acquittals can be overturned.

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At Monday’s closed-door preliminary hearing at the court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner’s detention was extended at least six months.

Photographs of Griner being escorted to the courtroom show the star in handcuffs.

She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, putting a strain on tensions between the US and Russia.

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US officials have said Griner is being “wrongfully detained”.

She was at the airport to board a flight back to Phoenix at the outset of the WNBA training camp.

Image:
Pic: AP

Griner, like other WNBA players, has spent several off seasons playing professionally in Russia because of the higher salaries.

Amid tensions, Griner’s supporters had taken a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the US state department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs – effectively the US government’s chief negotiator.

That move has drawn additional attention to Griner’s case, with supporters encouraging a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Last month, US President Joe Biden’s press secretary said the tension with the Kremlin presents challenges in any attempt to negotiate Griner’s release.

US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said he has “no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home”.

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