The Biden Administration is offering to exchange Viktor Bout, a Russian who was convicted of arms dealing in the U.S. in 2011 and sentenced to 25 years in prison, for Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, both of which are considered wrongfully detained in Russia, CNN reports. The prisoner swap has been discussed since Griner was arrested in Russia in February after Russian officials found cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the U.S. presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” for Whelan and Griner. Whelan is accused by Russia of being a spy for the U.S.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Blinken said that President Joe Biden (D) was “directly involved” and signed off on the proposal; however, Blinken declined to confirm that Bout was part of the deal.
During her court appearance on Wednesday, Griner’s attorneys argued that the Woman’s National Basketball Association all-star was improperly arrested, was questioned without an attorney present, and did not read her rights which under Russian law should occur within three hours of arrest, according to CNN.
On Tuesday, the court heard from an expert who testified that medical cannabis is used around the world for pain management, according to an Associated Press report. Earlier this month, Griner’s attorneys presented evidence that she has a physician’s recommendation in the U.S. for medical cannabis use but that is not a valid defense in Russia, where all cannabis use is prohibited.
Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession on July 7 and faces up to 10 years in prison. Russian officials have said that no potential prisoner swap would move forward before the end of her trial.
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