Russia charges US citizen with espionage

Russia charges US citizen with espionage

Russia charges US citizen with espionage Izvor: Shutterstock

A lawyer for Paul Whelan, a US citizen charged in Russia with espionage, said Thursday he has filed an appeal in court against Whelan's detention without bail, which he called unwarranted and excessive.

Whelan, 48, a Michigan resident and corporate security director, was arrested December 28 in Moscow on suspicion of carrying out an act of espionage, Russia has said. His family rejects the accusation, asserting that he was in Russia only for a vacation.

The Russian government announced the arrest Monday but has not officially released further details about the specific allegations against Whelan.

Whelan's lawyer in Russia, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said Whelan has been charged and detained in Moscow's Lefortovo prison since the day of his arrest.

"I filed a complaint with the Lefortovo court because I believe that the detention (without bail) is excessive and unwarranted," Zherebenkov said on Thursday. "We are asking for bail." An unidentified source told Russian news site Rosbalt that Whelan was arrested in his hotel room with a flash drive containing classified information. Rosbalt said its report was based on a source in the Russian special services.

CNN has not independently verified that these are the official Russian allegations against Whelan.

Rosbalt reported that on the day of his arrest, Whelan met a Russian citizen, a person he had known for a long time and whom he had repeatedly tried to recruit as an agent to obtain information about the staff of Russian intelligence agencies, according to its source.

Whelan received an electronic device with a list of employees of a classified department, and then Federal Security Service officers broke into his room at the Metropol Hotel five minutes later and detained him, Rosbalt reported.

If found guilty of espionage, he faces 10 to 20 years in prison, Russia's state-run news agency TASS reported. Whelan feels well and is in a good mood, and the prison has treated him well, Zherebenkov said.

He didn't discuss the details of the charges but said he had appealed Whelan's detention and applied for bail.

It could be half a year before the case goes to trial, the lawyer said. Whelan's family dismisses notions that he was a spy, saying the discharged US Marines reservist was in Russia to attend a wedding for a fellow former US service member and a Russian woman.

The United States has told Russia it expects more information about the charge, and it will demand Whelan's release "if the detention is not appropriate," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday. He told Newsmax on Thursday the "most senior levels" of government are involved and "we're doing everything we can to make sure that he's treated appropriately and that we get the information we need."

The UK Foreign Office said Friday its staff also asked Russia to let its consular officials visit Whelan after receiving a request for assistance from him.

Canada's global affairs department told CNN, in response to a question about Whelan, that it is "aware that a Canadian citizen has been arrested in Russia." Citing privacy laws, it declined to comment further.

Whelan's arrest came 15 days after alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in US federal court to trying to infiltrate political circles and influence US relations with Russia.

Former US national security officials have speculated to CNN that the arrest of Whelan, spy or not, could be Russian government retaliation for Butina's prosecution.  

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