Defense lawyer: Russia files formal spying charges against American Paul Whelan

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Defense lawyer: Russia files formal spying charges against American Paul Whelan

An American man detained in Russia has been charged with spying. Paul Whelan is a security executive and former member of the US military.

His family said he arrived in Russia late last month for a wedding. Russian officials arrested him last week . CGTN’s Julia Chapman reports.

Russian media are reporting that formal charges of espionage have been brought against  U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.  The former U.S. marine has denied the allegations. Defense lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov for the American citizen confirmed the charges and told journalists that he has applied for bail.  He expressed hope that bail would be granted as he doesn’t believe Whelan is a flight risk.  The lawyer also said he was surprised to find his client so confident, despite the challenges ahead.

If convicted, Whelan could face 10-20 years in a Russian prison.  He is being held in the Lefortovo prison in central Moscow, a former KGB detention facility.  The U.S. government is still calling for an explanation from Russian authorities as to why Whelan has been detained.   So far, the Russian Federal Security Service said that he was arrested during an alleged espionage operation.

His arrest is understood to have taken place at the Metropol Hotel, where his family said he was in Moscow for a wedding.  A number of American officials have speculated that the arrest could have been arranged in order to set up a prisoner exchange with Maria Butina, the Russian citizen who last month in the U.S. pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent.

On Wednesday, Paul Whelan was visited in detention by the U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman, who offered consular assistance and later spoke to Whelan’s family over the phone.  Some Russian commentators have suggested the visit by the ambassador, instead of a lower-level U.S. official lends credibility to the accusations of espionage.