The plot thickens in the case of a former US Marine who was detained on spying charges in Russia before the New Year. It has emerged that Paul Whelan also holds UK and Irish passports, and maybe a Canadian one.
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The American was arrested in a posh hotel overlooking the Kremlin in Moscow by Federal Security Service (FSB) before the New Year. He was put in custody and charged with espionage a few days later, facing between 10 to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Whelan is a former US Marine, who worked as a security director for BorgWarner, a major Michigan-based car parts manufacturer. Whelan had been visiting Russia since 2007 and this time he arrived to attend a friend’s wedding, according to his family. He reportedly liked the country, had a profile on a Russian social media website, and even a basic command of the Russian language.
The Marines gave Whelan, who served two tours in Iraq, a bad conduct discharge in 2008 over accusations of theft. This detail, made public after his arrest, was a surprise for the family. He was also revealed to be a citizen of at least four countries – US, UK, Ireland and Canada – all of who are now issuing statements on his detainment.
The 48-year-old was born in Canada’s Ottawa to British parents, with his family originally coming from an area close to Birmingham in the UK. He moved to the US as a child. Canadian diplomats said that Whelan had maple leaf citizenship, but his brother David could not say if he still had the passport.
After the US demanded consular access to its citizen, the request was swiftly granted by Moscow. American ambassador Jon Huntsman, visited Whelan in detention and told the family that the man was doing OK.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that Whelan’s ordeal was being closely followed in London.
“Our position is very, very clear… individuals shouldn’t be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage. We need to see what those charges are against him to understand whether there is a case or not,” Hunt said. “We’re not ruling out any theories at all at this stage as to why this might have happened.”
Several hours later, the Republic of Ireland stepped in, with the Department of Foreign Affairs telling The Independent that Whelan was also an Irish citizen and that it was ready to “provide all possible and appropriate assistance” in his case. The British and Irish missions in Moscow have also requested consular access to Whelan.
The suspect’s attorney said that his client was treated “professionally and humanely” by the Russian investigators. The defense has also appeal the court ruling to hold him in jail without bail, calling the measure excessive.
Details about Whelan’s spying activities in Russia and his arrest might be scarce at the moment, but it seems the mainstream media has already figured everything out.
The New York Times said that CIA almost never sends its officers into Russia without diplomatic protections, while John Sipher, former clandestine CIA operative who worked in Moscow, insists that Whelan does not fit the profile of a spy, according to NPR.
CNN said that 20 years that the accused spy may face in Russia would provide “plenty of time to be swapped for… Maria Butina.”
CBS suggested that the ex-Marine “is a pawn in Russia’s play to get back one of its spies, Maria Butina,” though the Russian student was not actually charged with espionage. MSNBC asked David Whelan if he believed that his brother’s arrest “was retaliation, was revenge in some way by the Russians?”
Butina is a Russian gun activist, who was arrested in the US in July and eventually pleaded guilty to working as a foreign agent without proper registration. The 30-year-old spent months in solitary confinement and complained of conditions close to torture, such as being deprived of sleep at night. Russia’s top officials have many times criticized Butina’s arrest, calling it politically motivated, but insisted that the woman never had any ties with the Kremlin.
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