Russian Federal Agents Announce Arrest of American Professional Basketball Star
An American professional basketball player has been detained in Russia amid mounting tensions between Moscow and the West.
Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, was detained by the Russian Federal Customs Service near Moscow, The New York Times reported.
The agency said vape cartridges containing hashish oil were found in the player’s luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport.
Russian officials did not identify the player except to say that she had won two Olympic gold medals. Griner won gold for the U.S. in 2016 and 2021 and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star.
The Russian news agency Tass identified the player as Griner.
“As a US citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo Customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage,” the customs agency said in a statement, according to CNN.
“The customs inspection of the hand luggage being carried by the US citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance.”
The agency also said it is conducting an investigation into drug smuggling, which can carry a sentence of 10 years in prison, the Times reported. Griner’s arrest came in the course of that investigation.
The agency indicated that the incident took place in February. It is unclear where Griner has been held since.
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the W.N.B.A. and N.B.A.,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said.
Russia and the U.S. are in a tense standoff following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week.
News of Griner’s detention came on the same day the State Department called for all U.S. citizens to leave Russia immediately, citing the “potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.”
“I obviously don’t know the circumstances of her detention, but Griner’s arrest should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans in Russia,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.
“Get out. Shut down your businesses now.”
The WNBA said in a statement that Griner “has the W.N.B.A.’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
“Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns,” USA Basketball said in a statement, according to ESPN.
“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 Mercury said in a statement.
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