Brittney Griner has been freed from Russian jail in prisoner exchange
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Basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian custody after being held for almost 10 months over cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner was freed today (8 December), as part of a negotiation deal signed off by US President Joe Biden.
The 32-year-old has been released in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who Russian President Vladimir Putin has been seeking to get back after he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the US.
Biden's administration had initially sought the release of both Griner and American corporate security executive Paul Whelan, however the president signed off on the negotiation despite the fact it meant leaving Whelan behind.
News of the swap has been confirmed by US officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they who were not authorized to publicly discuss the deal before a White House announcement.
The president is expected to give remarks on the matter at 8:45am ET.
Speaking last month of his plans to get the basketball star back in the US, Biden said: “I’m telling you, I am determined to get her home and get her home safely — along with others, I might add."
After arriving in Russia in February, Griner was jailed on drug charges and underwent a trial in July where she pleaded guilty but claimed she had no criminal intent when she brought the cannabis oil into the country.
Griner claimed the canisters had been packed by accident as she prepared for her flight, and that they had been prescribed to her to treat chronic pain.
She was ultimately sentenced to nine years in prison at a Russian penal colony more than 200 miles east of Moscow, which she began serving last month.
Reports about the possibility of an exchange negotiation initially began a few months ago, though Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov at the time said 'there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps' until Griner's trial had come to an end.
Bout earned himself the nickname the 'Merchant of Death' because he was considered one of the world’s largest illicit arms dealers.
He was sentenced to federal prison in the US in 2012 after being convicted of selling arms to Colombian rebels, which prosecutors claimed were intended to be used to kill Americans.
Griner had initially travelled to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian league. Her trade for Bout took place in the United Arab Emirates.
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