U.S. WNBA All-Star Griner detained in Russia, customs service cites hash possession

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Oct 13, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) shoots against the Chicago Sky during the first half of game two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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March 5 (Reuters) - U.S. basketball officials said on Saturday they were closely monitoring the situation surrounding seven-time WNBA All-Star player Brittney Griner after Russia said it had detained a U.S. player last month for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil.

Without identifying Griner, a center for the female league's Phoenix Mercury, the Russian Customs Service said a player was detained in February after arriving at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on a flight from New York.

Russian news agency TASS identified the player as Griner, citing a source. The Phoenix Mercury team, without elaborating, said: "We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia."

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A scan of the player's luggage revealed cartridges containing "liquid with hashish oil", and a criminal case has been opened carrying a possible sentence of five to ten years in prison, the customs service said.

It was not clear when in February Griner, who plays in Russia during the WNBA's winter off-season, was detained. The player is still in custody and an investigation is underway, the Russian Customs Service said.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 and Western nations' sweeping sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow, the United States on Saturday warned against travel to Russia and said its embassy there had limited ability to assist citizens.

The Phoenix Mercury said: "We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home."

Griner, who won Olympic gold medals with the U.S. national teams in 2016 and 2021, "has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball," USA Basketball said on Twitter.

"(Her) safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns," the group added.

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Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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