Ex-US marine jailed in Russia for spying ‘hopes to be freed through prisoner swap’

Former US Marine Paul Whelan will not appeal against his jail sentence for spying in Russia and hopes instead to be released through a future prisoner swap with the US, his lawyer has said.

The 50-year-old, who has UK citizenship, as well as US, Canadian and Irish passports, has been in custody in Russia since he was arrested in a Moscow hotel room on 28 December 2018.

Police said they caught him “red-handed” with a computer memory stick containing a list of secret Russian agents.

Vladimir Zherebenkov, Paul Whelan's lawyer is pictured outside Moscow City Court today
Image:Vladimir Zherebenkov, Paul Whelan’s lawyer, has said his client hopes to be freed as part of a prisoner swap with the US

He was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum security prison.

He had pleaded not guilty, claiming he was set up by a sting operation and that he had been given the USB drive by someone else, thinking it only contained holiday photos.

On Tuesday, his lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said Whelan would not be lodging an appeal against the sentence and was hoping to be freed as part of a prisoner swap, according to Interfax news agency.

Whelan’s brother David had vowed to appeal against last week’s verdict, asking the US government to “immediately take steps to bring him home”.

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US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan described the case against Whelan as a “mockery of justice”.

Paul Whelan: Former US Marine sentenced to 16 years hard labour over espionage charges

Paul Whelan: Former US Marine sentenced to 16 years hard labour over espionage charges

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He said he was “crestfallen” by the judge’s decision, adding: “An American citizen has been sentenced to a term of 16 years for a crime for which we have not seen evidence.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: “Outraged by the decision today to convict Paul Whelan on the basis of a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defence witnesses.

“Paul’s treatment by Russian authorities continues to be appalling, and we demand his immediate release.”

Sky News’ Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay said Whelan’s sentence was “no great surprise”.

“The fact it was not the 18 years the prosecution requested is hardly a concession,” she said.

“The process was held entirely behind closed doors, essentially a secret trial in which he and all four ambassadors whose citizenship he holds say no evidence of his guilt has been presented.

“Whelan has always maintained the trial was a sham and piece of political theatre.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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