Russia Says It Has American Basketball Player in Custody

The Russian Federal Customs Service said Saturday that its officials had detained an American basketball player after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow.

The Customs Service said in a statement that the player had won two Olympic gold medals with the United States, but it did not release the player’s name. The Russian news agency TASS, citing a law enforcement source, identified the player as Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star center for the Phoenix Mercury. Griner, 31, won gold medals with the US women’s national basketball team in 2021 and 2016.

The Customs Service released a video of a traveler at the airport who appeared to be Griner, wearing a mask and black sweatshirt, going through security. The video showed an individual removing a package from the traveler’s bag.

According to the statement, a criminal case has been opened into the large-scale transportation of drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia. The basketball player was taken into custody while the investigation was ongoing, officials said.

In a statement, the Mercury said: “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. ”

The WNBA said in a statement that Griner “has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”

USA Basketballwhich oversees the Olympics teams, and the WNBA players’ union also released statements expressing support for Griner.

The detainment comes amid the escalating conflict created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and high tensions between Russia and the United States. In recent years, Russia has been detaining and sentencing American citizens on what United States officials often say are trumped-up charges. The arrest of a high-profile American could be seen as Russia’s attempting to create leverage for a potential prisoner exchange with the American government or a reduction in sanctions related to the invasion.

Many WNBA players compete in Russia, where salaries are more lucrative, during the American league’s off-season. Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years.

Some American players began making plans to leave Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, and a WNBA spokeswoman said on Saturday that all WNBA players besides Griner were out of Russia and Ukraine.

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