U.S. wants access to American detained in Moscow

Erika Holt
January 6, 2019

Russian lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov, who was appointed to represent Whelan, was quoted as saying the American will remain in custody in Moscow until at least February 28.

The United States is demanding the immediate return of a retired US Marine detained by Russian Federation on spying charges and wants an explanation on why he was arrested, said on Wednesday.

Zherebennkov told The New York Times that Russia's criminal code allows for a suspect to be held without trial for 18 months while investigations proceed.

Rosbalt, a Russian news agency close to the security services, quoted an unidentified intelligence source Wednesday as saying Whelan had been apprehended during a meeting with a Russian citizen in his room at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. The Russian Federal Security Service announced the arrest three days later and said Whelan was caught "during an espionage operation", but it gave no details.

After two years of friending Russian Internet users, Whelan reportedly started visiting Moscow. What's different about this case is that Mr. Whelan isn't a diplomat. His lawyer, Zherebenkov, said that he had been briefed on the charges against Whelan as well as the details of the case, but that he can not comment on them due to a confidentiality agreement.

Wayne State University constitutional law professor Robert Sedler says there's likely a reason the country brought the charges against Whelan.

Whelan's condition and mood are good, and the prison where he's being kept has treated him well, his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told CNN on Thursday.

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The timing of Whelan's detention is certainly notable.

Whelan is now being held alone in a cell in Lefortovo, Zherebenkov said, but added that he expected Whelan would be given a cellmate at the end of the Russian New Year celebrations, which run until mid-January. Whelan had also been using a Russian social media platform called VKontakte (VK) for the past several years, according to a profile on the site under his name.

"Whelan now becomes a bargaining chip and his fate is political, not judicial", Julian Rimmer, a London-based trader at Investec Bank Plc, said by email.

USA troops are advised not to travel to Russian Federation, where a Marine Corps veteran accused of spying has been detained by authorities and where security services have a history of harassing American military personnel visiting on vacation. He was an administrative clerk and administrative chief but was given a bad-conduct discharge in December 2008 at the rank of private. According to a statement from his employer, Whelan is now the director of global security for BorgWarner Inc., a large American auto-parts supplier.

Huntsman said he offered support and assistance to Whelan, and later spoke to the man's family by phone, but he would not discuss the case in detail. "He wanted to learn more about Russian Federation".

"He has friends in Russian Federation, so that would be an extra draw, people he's met on social media, but I don't know that Russian Federation was a particular place of return for him", David Whelan said.

Confirmation of Whelan's arrest led to speculation he was taken hostage in retaliation for actions by the USA government, possibly including sanctions or the prosecution of Maria Butina as an agent of the Kremlin. That was the same day, December 28, that Paul Whelan was detained.

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