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The United States
on Thursday urged Russia
to accept a “substantial offer” for freeing basketball star Brittney Griner
and former Marine Paul Whelan
. Earlier in the day, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court over drug smuggling. US officials said that the 31-year-old American was wrongfully detained.
“We have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whelan home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal,” White House
spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said as quoted by AFP. Griner is one of the world’s greatest basketball players.
The verdict was pronounced by Judge Anna Sotnikova. She said that the court “found the defendant guilty” of smuggling and possessing “a significant amount of narcotics, reported the news agency. Griner was also fined one million rubles or USD 16,590.
US President Joe Biden
called the verdict “unacceptable”. Buden said that he would work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to repatriate the basketball star. Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February when she arrived in Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US off-season. The US basketball player’s arrest came days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Whelan is a security official at an auto parts company. He was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. Two years after his arrest, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. However, he denied the charges.
Earlier in April, Washington and Moscow had already engaged in prisoner swapping. The US exchanged former Marine Trevor Reed for convicted drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko. Last month US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for accepting the proposal on releasing the two Americans held captive in Russia.