The Russian Federal Customs Service said it had detained an American basketball player, who has been identified as WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner, in February 2022, according to a story from the New York Times that cites a Russian news agency as the one that identified her.
The Times reports that the Russian Customs Service said it had detained the American Olympic gold medallist at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow after finding vape cartridges containing hashish oil.
USA Basketball and the Phoenix Mercury said in separate statements they were â€œaware of and closely monitoringâ€ the situation facing Griner, though did not give further specifics about the nature of her legal plight or what the next steps would be.
“Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are out primary concern,” read USA Basketball’s statement.
According to the Times, the Customs Service released a video of what appeared to be Griner having a package removed from her bag while moving through airport security.
A criminal case on the large-scale transportation of drugs has been opened on the basketball player, according to the statement obtained by the Times from Customs Service â€” an offence that can carry up to 10 years imprisonment in Russia.
“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 WNBA and NBA,” said Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas in a statement obtained by ESPN Saturday. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
Griner, much like several WNBA players, plays overseas during the WNBA off-season, most recently playing for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” said the league in a statement to ESPN.
More than a dozen WNBA players were playing in Russia and Ukraine this winter, including league MVP Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley of the champion Chicago Sky. The WNBA confirmed Saturday that all players besides Griner had left both countries.
The basketball player’s detainment comes as tensions are rising between the United States and Russia, amid president Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked decision to invade Ukraine last week.
Russia continues to attack Ukraine in the East, North and South of the country, including the capital Kyiv, while Ukrainians have waged a fierce defence of their country to slow Russian forces.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory for Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine and urged all U.S. citizens to depart immediately, citing factors including “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and “the Embassy’s limited ability to assist” Americans in Russia.
As of Friday, the United Nations had recorded 752 civilianÂ casualtiesÂ so far acrossÂ Ukraine, with 227 killed and 525 injured.
Russia has received swift sanctions from countries across the globe, which Putin recently called an “act of war” and threatened that Ukraine could lose statehood.
— With files from The Associated Press.