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American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court via video link to challenge whether her arrest for drug trafficking was legal, the first step in what is expected to be a long journey through the Russian justice system.

Ms Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport after flying to Russia a week before the war with Ukraine. The Moscow Region Court ruled on Thursday that her subsequent arrest was lawful, agreeing with the prosecution that she fell within the permitted 48-hour window after her detention.

The court rejected the argument of her lawyer, Alexander Boykov, that Ms Griner had been denied a lawyer and consular representation, her detention had begun as soon as she was arrested and searched on February 17.

The hearing did not consider the merits of the case and it could not be determined whether Ms Griner would seek to appeal the ruling on the legality of the arrest.

Russian authorities say a drug-sniffing dog smelled narcotics in Ms Griner’s luggage, and X-ray screening found electronic vaping cartridges containing hash oil, leading to her arrest for drug trafficking.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case on Thursday.

The WNBA star supplements his income by spending the league’s offseason on the edge of Siberia, playing for a powerhouse team in Yekaterinburg owned by a billionaire oligarch. Basketball stars in Russia can earn over $1 million in salary and benefits.

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