US citizen Paul Whelan has been charged with espionage almost a week after he was arrested in Moscow, where he was visiting for a friend's wedding.
Whelan flew to Moscow on December 22 to attend the wedding of a fellow former United States service member and a Russian woman, his family said. At the time, the FSB said Whelan had been detained "during an act of espionage" but did not provide any details. He works as the director of global security for an automotive components supplier called BorgWarner.
Local news outlets report that despite saying he was in Russia to have "fun", Whelan "shunned pretty Russian women" and instead made contacts with men who might have access to confidential information. Whelan's family has staunchly denied that he could be a spy. "His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected", the family said in a statement.
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Zherebenkov said Thursday that it could be six months before a court date is set but added that he has asked for Whelan to be released on bail. The security service has not given details of the case. He spent 14 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and, according to the military, was discharged in 2008 for bad conduct related to larceny. "Ambassador Huntsman subsequently spoke by telephone with Mr. Whelan's family", the State Department said in an email statement to Fox News.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman met with Whelan in Moscow on Wednesday.
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Zherebenkov says Whelan is behaving "constructively and correctly" in custody.
Russian authorities said that, if convicted, Whelan could face between 10 and 20 years in a Russian prison. Paul Whelan had traveled to Russian Federation in the past for work and to visit friends he had met on social networks, his brother said.
She said BorgWarner does not have any facilities in Russian Federation.
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Former CIA operative John Sipher told NPR Whelan is "absolutely not" the kind of operative American intelligence services would recruit for a mission to Russian Federation, because "we would never put a USA citizen, without diplomatic immunity, in harm's way this way, especially looking after low-level things like this".