Former American Marine Paul Whelan Has Been Imprisoned For Espionage In Moscow For Two Months; Facing Up To Twenty Years in Prison

RUSSIA – A U.S. citizen accused of espionage by the Russian government has been in prison for two months and may face an additional three months due to what some speculate is a ploy by Moscow to facilitate a prisoner swap.

Paul Whelan, a former Marine living in Novi, Michigan, was arrested by Russian authorities at a Moscow hotel Dec. 28 but has not been formally charged, according to the Associated Press Sunday. However, a Russian court ruled Friday that he be jailed for three more months, and he could be sentenced to prison for up to 20 years if convicted of spying.

“We are following Mr. Whelan’s case closely,” a State Department spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation Wednesday. “We continue to urge the Russian government to ensure fair trial guarantees, including a fair and public hearing without undue delay, in accordance with its international legal obligations. Russian authorities have obstructed some of our routine efforts in providing consular assistance.  We have expressed our concerns through diplomatic channels.”

“We take seriously our right to visit detained U.S. citizens regularly and ensure they receive humane treatment and access to medical care,” the spokesperson added.

Whelan’s brother David Whelan told media that Paul Whelan was in Moscow for the wedding of a fellow former Marine and a Russian woman, reported CNN. Whelan flew into Russia on Dec. 22 and had visited the country before, his brother said.

The U.S. government has only had three consular visits with Whelan: January 2 (when U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited him), on February 5 and most recently on February 21, the spokesperson said. U.S. Embassy representatives were also at Whelan’s hearing Friday.

U.S. Embassy officials have also been frustrated trying to get permission to give more information about Whelan’s case. It is the first time the Russian Investigative Committee has kept a U.S. national in a Russian jail from completing the privacy waiver form that U.S. officials need.

“We are strongly concerned about the delay in allowing Mr. Whelan to provide a signed Privacy Act Waiver (PAW). U.S. privacy laws require a consular official obtain permission from someone before we can release any information about their case, and this is done routinely,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote on Twitter Friday.

We are strongly concerned about the delay in allowing Mr. Whelan to provide a signed Privacy Act Waiver (PAW). U.S. privacy laws require a consular official obtain permission from someone before we can release any information about their case, and this is done routinely. (2/3)

— Andrea Kalan (@USEmbRuPress) February 22, 2019

“Why is this case any different? Consular access without being able to do true consular support is not real access,” Kalan continued.

In every other instance, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Mr. Whelan’s case, the Investigative Committee is not allowing this to happen. Why is this case any different? Consular access without being able to do true consular support is not real access. (3/3)

— Andrea Kalan (@USEmbRuPress) February 22, 2019

Whelan’s brother David Whelan has advocated for him in the media and said in January it “sounds like he was set up,” reported Fox News. Russian media reports have put forward the narrative that a flash drive containing sensitive information was given to Whelan, resulting in his arrest.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has denied that Whelan is being held for a possible prisoner swap, reported the AP. There was speculation Russia wanted to swap Whelan for U.S.-held Maria Butina, an alleged Russian spy, who is accused of trying to infiltrate conservative political groups.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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