Ex-US Marine sentenced to hard labour by Russian court on espionage charges

A Russian court has sentenced former US Marine Paul Whelan to 16 years hard labour after he was found guilty of spying charges.

Whelan, 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.

The 50-year-old 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.

But on Monday at Moscow City Court, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum security prison. The sentence was read out in Russian, with Whelan unable to understand until his lawyer translated it for him.

His brother David vowed to appeal the verdict, asking the US government to “immediately take steps to bring him home”.

Vladimir Zherebenkov, Paul Whelan's lawyer is pictured outside Moscow City Court today
Image:Vladimir Zherebenkov, Paul Whelan’s lawyer is pictured outside Moscow City Court today

He said in a statement: “The court’s decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process.

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“We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities.”

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

He said he was “crestfallen” and “outraged” 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.”

US officials have branded the case a “significant obstacle” to improving their relations with Russia and have consistently claimed there is no evidence against Whelan, calling his trial “unfair” and “opaque”.

Sky News’s Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay said Whelan’s 16-year sentence is “no great surprise”.

She said: “The fact it was not the 18 years the prosecution requested is hardly a concession.

US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Whelan's case is proof 'anyone' can get on the wrong side of the law there
Image:US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Whelan’s case is proof ‘anyone’ can get on the wrong side of the law there

“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.”

In court, he described it as “slimy, greasy, grubby Russian politics”, she added.

“The fact he did not even have the sentence translated for him is an indication of just how dispensable he as an individual is in the game of chess Russia plays against the West.

“As the US ambassador John Sullivan just said ‘if it can happen to Paul, it can happen to anyone’.”

Mark Gibson

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

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