Former US marine detained in Russia charged with espionage, state media reports
A former US marine detained in Russia has been charged with espionage, according to the state-run Interfax news agency, meaning he could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
- Paul Whelan’s family say he was visiting Moscow for a wedding when he was detained
- He is likely to remain in custody until at least the end of February
- Espionage charges carry a sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison
Russia’s FSB state security service detained Paul Whelan, 48, in Moscow last Friday on suspicion of spying, in a case that threatens to aggravate diplomatic tensions between Russia and the United States.
The FSB opened a criminal case against Mr Whelan but gave no details of his alleged espionage activities.
Interfax said Russian authorities had brought formal charges against Mr Whelan, citing what it described as an informed source. The report could not be independently verified.
Mr Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, declined to comment on the charges but said under the terms of the arrest order, his client was expected to remain in custody in Moscow until at least February 28.
“I consider his detention and arrest baseless,” Mr Zherebenkov said.
“It’s based on investigators’ supposition that he will hinder the investigation process. We are asking for bail instead.”
The lawyer said he visited Mr Whelan on Wednesday and found him in a “very hopeful” mood.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier said the US had asked Russia to explain Mr Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention was inappropriate.
“We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he’s been accused of, and if the detention is not appropriate we will demand his immediate return,” Mr Pompeo said.
Mr Whelan, who served in Iraq and is now a corporate security director in Michigan, had been to Russia many times in the past for both work and personal trips.
His family has said he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a retired marine and he is innocent of the espionage charges against him.
Under Russian law, espionage can carry a sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison.