SMA News – Agencies
Aformer U.S. Marine detained in Russia has been charged with espionage, the Interfax news agency said on Thursday, meaning he could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Russia’s FSB state security service detained Paul Whelan, 48, in Moscow last Friday on suspicion of spying, in a case which threatens to aggravate diplomatic tensions with the United States.
The FSB opened a criminal case against Whelan but gave no details of his alleged espionage activities.
Interfax said the Russian authorities had brought formal charges against Whelan on Thursday, citing what it described as an informed source. Reuters could not independently verify the Interfax report.
Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, declined to comment on the charges but told Reuters that under the terms of the arrest order, Whelan was expected to remain in custody in Moscow until at least Feb. 28.
“I consider his detention and arrest baseless. It’s based on investigators’ supposition that he will hinder the investigation process. We are asking for bail instead,” Zherebenkov told Reuters by telephone.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States had asked Russia to explain Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determines his detention is inappropriate.
Whelan’s family has said that he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a retired Marine and is innocent of the espionage charges against him.
Under Russian law, espionage can carry sentences of between 10 and 20 years in prison.
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