Paul Whelan, ex-US marine, jailed in Russia on spying charges

Ex-US marine Paul Whelan has been sentenced to 16 years of hard labour on spying charges in Russia.

He was arrested in a hotel room in Moscow 18 months ago with a USB flash drive which security officers say contained state secrets.

The Moscow City Court found him guilty of receiving classified information.

Whelan – who is also a citizen of the UK, Canada and Ireland – denounced the closed trial as a “sham” ahead of the verdict.

The US ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, condemned the trial as unfair and lacking transparency, and said the conviction would harm Russia-US relations.

“This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms,” an embassy spokeswoman said.

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By Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, Moscow

Paul Whelan had hand-written a sign for this final court hearing, pressing it to the glass of his cage in court to denounce his trial as a sham. TV cameras were banned from filming on Monday, supposedly as a coronavirus precaution.

So Whelan raised his voice to shout his innocence to the photographers instead. With two FSB [Russia’s Federal Security Service] guards at his side in black balaclavas, he denounced the charges against him as fabricated and “ridiculous”.

“They have got this so wrong, and all for political purposes,” he told the BBC. At past hearings, he has been openly angry and frustrated – talking over the judge and accusing his interrogators of threats and coercion. On Monday, he was calm, even smiling – waving to the three ambassadors who came to court to support him, all in facemasks and gloves and carefully spaced out on the wooden benches like the press.

Paul Whelan had already declared this verdict “pre-ordained”, but when it came, no-one bothered to translate it. The American was left shrugging, appealing to the judges to tell him his fate “po angliisky” – in English. The panel of three ignored him, and swept out of court in their gowns.

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Who is Paul Whelan?

Paul Whelan, 50, is a citizen of four countries – the US, Canada, the UK and the Irish Republic.

From Novi, Michigan, he was born in Canada to British parents and moved to the US as a child.

Military records show he joined the US Marine Reserves in 1994, about six years after he had reportedly begun work as a police officer in Michigan.

He went on two tours to Iraq, in 2004 and then 2006. It was while serving in the marines that he made his first trip to Russia, and went on to visit the country many times.

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Paul Whelan was arrested in his hotel room in central Moscow in December 2018.

He says he was getting ready for a wedding when an old friend turned up unexpectedly. Moments later, security officers burst in and arrested him for receiving state secrets.

After Monday’s verdict, his family said in a statement it was the Russian legal system which had been “found guilty of injustice”.

“The court’s decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process. We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities,” the statement said.

The family also said they understood Whelan’s lawyers may lodge an appeal within two weeks, and called on the US government and president to immediately take steps to bring him home.



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