Lawyer for American Held in Russia Alleges Unlawful Arrest

This undated photo provided by the Whelan family shows Paul Whelan in Iceland. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine arrested in Russia on espionage charges, was visiting Moscow over the holidays to attend a wedding when he suddenly disappeared, his brother said on Jan. 1, 2019. (Courtesy of the Whelan Family via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A lawyer for the former U.S. Marine accused in Russia of espionage said Thursday he has appealed Paul Whelan’s detention on the basis of unlawful arrest.

Whelan, 48, had been in Russia when he was arrested on Dec. 28 to attend a friend’s wedding, according to a statement by his twin brother, David Whelan.

Since then, Paul Whelan has been detained in a former KBG prison in Moscow known as Lefortovo, charged with espionage under article 276 of the Russian Federation’s criminal code.

Whelan’s attorney in Russia, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said in a statement Thursday he filed a complaint with the Lefortovo court because he believed “the arrest is excessive and unfounded.”

“We are asking for bail,” Zherebenov said.

Citing Russian intelligence reports meanwhile, the Russian news agency Rosbalt reported today that Whelan was arrested only minutes after receiving a USB drive holding the names of several high-ranking officials within the Russian intelligence community.

An unnamed source inside of a Russian security service, according to Rosbalt, also claims Whelan received the USB only after inviting a local Russian citizen to his room at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.

Agents with the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, or FSB, promptly burst in after the handoff, Rosbalt reported.

Courthouse News Service was not able to independently verify these claims.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Wednesday that Whelan would be permitted to meet with American diplomats while detained. The secretary also said the U.S. State Department would demand Whelan’s release if the charges were ultimately unfounded. 

A representative for the State Department said Thursday that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has visited with Whelan so far and that he has been in communication with Whelan’s family in the United States.

It could take more than a year for a trial to finally get underway, Zherebenkov said Thursday. If Whelan is found guilty, he could face 10 to 20 years in prison. 

The former U.S. marine served two tours in Iraq and was discharged for bad conduct in 2008 after a military court found him guilty of attempted larceny.

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