U.S. Citizen Whelan Sentenced To 16 Years For Spying By Russian Court
By RFE/RL June 15, 2020
A Russian court has found former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan guilty on an espionage charge, a verdict that the top U.S. diplomat in Russia called a "mockery of justice."
The Moscow City Court on June 15 handed Whelan a prison sentence of 16 years for the conviction in a trial that was held behind closed doors because the evidence includes classified materials, as well as because of measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The 50-year-old Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and in March this year went on trial, which was held in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and diplomatic protests. He denies all charges.
Whelan told journalists that he will appeal the court's decision, calling it politically motivated. "It is a political trial, a political sentence," he said.
Prosecutors claimed that a flash disc found in Whelan's possession contained classified information.
On May 25, a prosecutor at Whelan's trial asked a Moscow court to find him guilty of espionage and sentence him to 18 years in prison.
Whelan says he was framed when he took a USB drive from an acquaintance, thinking it contained holiday photos, and that the allegations of spying against him are politically motivated.
He has also accused his prison guards of mistreatment.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said that he was "disappointed, enraged" by Whelan's sentence and called the trial a "mockery of justice," stressing that Whelan's conviction will harm U.S.-Russia relations.
Answering a journalist's question about a possible exchange of Whelan for Russian citizens held in the United States, Sullivan said that Washington was not seeking exchange, but instead justice for Whelan.
Whelan's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said separately that the issue of pardoning or exchange of his client will be possible only in 10 days, when the court's ruling comes into force.
Whelan was head of global security at a U.S. auto-parts supplier at the time of his arrest. He and his relatives insist he visited Russia to attend a wedding.
Before the verdict, U.S. officials had urged Moscow to release Whelan following their criticism of Russian authorities for their "shameful treatment" of him.
With reporting by TASS, Interfax, AFP, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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