Video
If the American basketball star is convicted, she faces up to 10 years in a Russian penal colony.CreditCredit…Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

American basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty in a court near Moscow on Thursday, her lawyer said.

“I would like to plead guilty, Your Honor. But there was no intention. I didn’t mean to break the law,” Ms Griner said in English, which was later translated into Russian, Reuters reported.

Ms Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17, accused by Russian authorities of having a vape cartridge containing hash oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.

Aleksandr Boikov, her lawyer, said cartridges appeared in Ms Griner’s luggage “due to negligence”.

“She pleaded guilty, pointing out that she was unwittingly transporting banned substances to Russia because she was hastily packing,” Boikov said.

If Mrs Griner is convicted, she faces up to 10 years in a Russian penal colony. Ms Griner is still in formal trial and sentencing proceedings, and her next court appearance is scheduled for July 14.

“Given the nature of his case, the insignificant amount of BG’s substance and personality, and his positive contributions to world and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating and that there will be no serious sentence,” Ms Griner’s legal team in Russia said in a statement Thursday.

His guilty plea came hours after a senior Russian diplomat lashed out at the Biden administration for trying to “foment hype” around his case.

Russian diplomat Sergei A. Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister, said the publicity around the case was not helping Ms. Griner, who US officials say is essentially a hostage taken by President Vladimir V. Putin as the war in Ukraine approaches.

Mr Ryabkov indicated that Moscow would be ready to negotiate her fate, but only after the court ruled on the drug charges against her.

“We have a long-established form for discussing these issues,” Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency. “Attempts by the US side to foment hype and make noise in the public environment are understandable, but they do not help solve the problems practically.”

After his trial began last week, Ms Griner sent a handwritten letter to Mr Biden asking him not to “forget” him and the other American detainees overseas.

Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Mrs. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, on Wednesday, according to a statement released by the White House.

During the call, the statement said, the president read a draft of a letter he planned to send to Brittney Griner. He also said his administration was pursuing “every means to bring Brittney home.”

Speaking outside the courtroom on Thursday, Elizabeth Rood, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, said she spoke to Ms Griner and was able to read the President’s letter .

“She said she ate well, was able to read books, and under the circumstances was fine,” Ms. Rood said, according to video posted to Twitter by an NPR correspondent. She added: ‘I would again like to underscore the commitment of the US government at the highest level to the safe return home of Ms. Griner and all wrongfully detained US citizens.’

Cherelle Griner has publicly expressed her frustration with Mr. Biden and his administration’s efforts to secure his wife’s release.

In a statement to The New York Times on Wednesday, Cherelle Griner said she was grateful to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris “for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed in bringing BG back to the House”.

The United States government has classified Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained” and is working to secure her release regardless of the outcome of the trial. While the Kremlin says it is not involved in Ms Griner’s case, Russian state media have reported that Moscow may pressure the US to release a Russian in US custody – like convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout – in exchange for his freedom.

Mr Ryabkov said that until Ms Griner’s case is concluded, “there is no formal procedural ground” to discuss further steps. He, however, hinted that Moscow was interested in negotiating its fate, saying it would be helped by “a serious reading by the American side of the signals they received from Russia, from Moscow, through specialized channels”.