US Vet Facing Spy Charges in Russia to Meet With Diplomats

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)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The retired U.S. marine facing espionage charges in Russia will be allowed to meet with American diplomats Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Having traveled to Russia to attend a friend’s wedding, 48-year-old Paul Whelan was arrested on Dec. 28 in Moscow. 

Apart from having charged Whelan with committing espionage, the Russian Federal Security Service has not released any details regarding the allegations.

Pompeo, who is in Brazil to attend the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro, told reporters the U.S. expects to learn more soon. He emphasized that U.S. officials have “made clear” what its expectations are with Russian authorities.

“[Our] expectation is 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,” Pompeo said.

The retired marine could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Paul Whelan’s twin brother David had invited Paul to Moscow to assist him with planning the wedding of a fellow former U.S. service member and a local Russian woman. Shortly after the arrest, David in a statement called his brother’s innocence “undoubted.”

“We trust that his rights will be respected,” David Whelan said last week.

A lawyer who serves as director of legal information at the Law Society of Ontario, David Whelan said he tapped Paul for help with the wedding because he knew Paul had traveled to Russia several times before.

On the morning of the wedding, Paul Whelan was reportedly giving wedding guests tours of museums in Moscow when authorities detained him.

When he didn’t show up for the ceremony that evening, David Whelan told CNN he feared the worst and began scouring the web for “any stories about dead Americans in Moscow.”

It was only then that they discovered Paul was arrested.

“I don’t think there’s any chance that he’s a spy,” David Whelan said of Paul, speaking to CNN on Wednesday.

Paul Whelan resides in Novi, Michigan, and has worked as director of global security for BorgWarner, an automotive supplier based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, since 2017.

While BorgWarner does not have any facilities in Russia, according to Associated Press reporting, Paul Whelan previously worked for a firm known as Kelly Services, which does.

“I just can’t see him breaking laws in America, let alone going to a country that may be more difficult to navigate if he broke the law and certainly not breaking the law of espionage,” David Whelan told the Detroit Free Press.

Paul Whelan, who served multiple tours in Iraq, was discharged from the military in 2008 for bad conduct after he was convicted of several charges connected to larceny, according to military records.

Paul Whelan is also a former police officer.

Typically, when U.S. diplomats visit detained U.S. citizens abroad, they use the time to provide the detainee with information like a list of local English-speaking attorneys and other U.S. or locally-based resources which might be available to help them, according to the State Department.

Consular officials will also check on the detainee’s health and any need for medical care.

The timing of Whelan’s arrest comes when tensions are high between the U.S. and the Kremlin, and U.S. prosecutors only recently procured a guilty plea from Russian spy Maria Butina.

There has been speculation that a prisoner-swap could be in the works since neither country has an extradition treaty in place, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has historically used prisoners for political purposes before.  

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