Russia claims former U.S. marine who was arrested in Moscow on spying charges was caught ‘red-handed’ carrying out ‘illegal actions’ in his hotel
- Marine veteran Paul Nicholas Whelan, 48, was arrested on December 28
- His brother said he was visiting Russia to attend the wedding of a Marine friend
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Whelan was ‘caught red handed’ carrying out illegal actions at his hotel but failed to elaborate further
- Intelligence experts said that Moscow may have arrested Whelan in retaliation for the U.S. arrest of Russian national Maria Butina
- She admitted trying to infiltrate US conservative groups as an agent for Moscow
- Reports suggest Whelan was detained after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of all the employees of a secret Russian state agency
Russia has claimed that it caught former U.S. marine Paul Whelan ‘red-handed’ as he was carrying out illegal activities in his Moscow hotel room.
Whelan, a former U.S. marine who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on December 28 on spying charges.
His family claim that he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
‘He was caught red-handed,’ Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday during a news conference.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) claimed former U.S. marine Paul Whelan (right), who is being detained in Russia on spying charges, was ‘caught red handed’
‘He was detained at the moment he was carrying out specific illegal actions in his hotel’.
Lavrov said the investigation into Mr Whelan continued and his detention was not motivated by any desire to try to exchange him for Russian citizens held in the US.
He also said Mr Whelan’s brother was in Moscow and had been briefed about prison conditions, but David Whelan told Reuters on Tuesday such reports were ‘false’.
‘Neither his parents nor his siblings are flying to Russia, and we have no plans to fly to Russia,’ he said.
The Interfax news agency on Tuesday had cited a lawyer for the Whelan family as saying that they would make such a visit.
The FSB has opened a criminal case against Whelan but given no details of his alleged activities.
In Russia, an espionage conviction carries a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Intelligence experts have said that Moscow may have arrested Whelan in retaliation for the U.S. arrest of a Russian national, Maria Butina, who admitted last month to U.S. prosecutors that she had tried to infiltrate American conservative groups as an agent for Moscow.
Whelan, 48, (pictured) was arrested on December 28 with his brother saying he was in the country to attend a friend’s wedding
A review of Whelan’s social media activity showed that he had online contact with more than 20 Russians with military backgrounds.
Russian men with military education or a history of military service make up nearly half of Whelan’s more than 50 friends on VK, a popular Russian social network that resembles Facebook, the analysis by Reuters shows.
At least 12 of his friends received military education in Russia, according to open source information, and at least another 11 appear to have completed national service.
The arrest has further strained relations between Moscow and Washington, which have soured over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and subsequent economic sanctions and accusations of meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Reports suggest Whelan was detained after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of all the employees of a secret Russian state agency
David Whelan (pictured) refuted a Russian media report that said his brother’s family planned to visit Russia to try to win his freedom
Whelan lives in Novi, Michigan, according to public records. He is director of global security at BorgWarner, a U.S. auto parts maker based in Michigan.
Russian online news portal Rosbalt.ru earlier this month cited an unnamed Russian intelligence source as saying that Whelan had been detained five minutes after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of all the employees of a secret Russian state agency.
The same source was quoted as saying that Whelan had been spying for 10 years using the internet to identify targets from whom he could obtain information and that the employee list he was caught with had long been of interest to U.S. spies.
Lavrov said the investigation into Whelan continued and his detention was not motivated by any desire to try to exchange him for Russian citizens held in the United States.
He said Russia would allow U.S. diplomats to visit Whelan for a second time and that an Irish diplomat was also due to meet him soon.
By LEAH MCDONALD