paul whelan us spy suspect to remain in custody in russia

Paul Whelan: US spy suspect to remain in custody in Russia

Paul Whelan in an undated family photo Image copyright Whelan family
Image caption The Whelan family released an undated photo of Paul Whelan

Former US marine Paul Whelan, who is accused of spying by Russia, must remain in custody while he awaits trial, a court in Moscow has ruled.

Russian security officials say that he was “caught spying” last month.

Mr Whelan, 48, who also holds British, Canadian and Irish nationality, was found with a memory stick containing state secrets, his lawyer said.

He had not opened the “thumb drive” and had been expecting holiday pictures and videos, the lawyer added.

“Paul was actually meant to receive information from an individual that was not classified. These were cultural things, trip to a cathedral, Paul’s holiday,” said Vladimir Zherebenkov.

“He could not see (the contents) because he was arrested.”

Mr Whelan insists that he is innocent and his family have told the BBC that he was simply visiting Russia to attend a wedding.

He appeared in court in Moscow on Tuesday to appeal against a decision to deny him bail. He is awaiting trial on espionage charges and, if found guilty, could face up to 20 years in jail.

Few details of the case against him have been made public, but his lawyer told the BBC that Mr Whelan was in good spirits and is determined to prove his innocence.

A short appearance behind closed doors

By Sarah Rainsford, BBC News Moscow

Paul Whelan appeared in court in a glass cage, only able to consult with his lawyers through a small hole.

An unarmed man in a grey balaclava stood guard. This was the first time we’d seen Mr Whelan since his arrest and he seemed calm; smartly dressed and apparently attentive.

He didn’t answer any of the questions we shouted, but his lawyer said he’d addressed the judge for 15 minutes during his bail hearing.

That session was closed to everyone, including the representatives from three consulates who turned up.

The spy case is classed as top secret. It’s why information is only emerging in dribs and drabs, mostly through Mr Whelan’s lawyer.

Vladimir Zherebenkov said on Tuesday he had seen nothing yet to prove his client’s guilt – no video or audio recordings that suggested he knew what was really on the memory stick.

Now bail has been refused, the former US marine has returned to his cell at the notorious Lefortovo prison where his weekly sessions with FSB investigators will continue.

“I saw him last week… he feels well, he has a sense of dignity,” the lawyer told reporters outside the court.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Moscow told Russian media it was “closely following” the case and called for a “fair and transparent trial”.

What was Paul Whelan doing in Russia?

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Media captionDavid Whelan comments on his brother’s arrest by Russian authorities

Mr Whelan arrived in Russia on 22 December to attend a wedding and had planned to visit Russia’s second city, St Petersburg, in addition to Moscow before flying home on 6 January, his brother told the BBC.

He was arrested on 28 December, having taken a group of wedding guests on a tour of the Kremlin museums in the morning. He was last heard from in the early evening and failed to show up for the wedding, David Whelan said.

Russia’s FSB state security agency has given few details, saying only that he was detained “during an act of espionage”, a wording that implies he was caught red-handed, our correspondent reports.

His family say he has been visiting Russia for business and pleasure since 2006.

Who is Paul Whelan?

Image copyright EPA

Mr Whelan was born in Canada to British parents but moved to the US as a child. He is currently director of global security for Michigan-based automotive components supplier BorgWarner.

He is a citizen of four countries – the US, the UK, Canada, and the Irish Republic.

Mr Whelan joined the Marine Reserves in 1994 and rose to the rank of staff sergeant in 2004. He served in Iraq for several months in 2004 and 2006.

He was convicted in a 2008 court martial on charges related to larceny and received a bad-conduct discharge. Details of the charges have not been made public.