Paul Whelan: Ex-marine accused of spying 'had secret Russian files on USB drive'

22 January 2019, 11:10 | Updated: 22 January 2019, 12:51

A former US marine held in Moscow on suspicion of spying was found with classified Russian materials when he was arrested, his lawyer has said.

Paul Whelan, 48, was detained at a hotel in the city on 28 December "while carrying out an act of espionage", according to Russia's FSB security service.

On Tuesday, Moscow judge Dmitry Pronyakin rejected a request for him to be freed on bail.

Mr Whelan is a former US marine born in Canada to British parents, who now lives in Michigan

Ahead of the hearing, his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said Mr Whelan was handed a USB drive he believed contained cultural information moments before his arrest.

He said his client did not have the opportunity to open the device to check the contents, which turned out to contain secret files.

Mr Zherebenkov said that he did not know how Mr Whelan got hold of those materials or what he was going to do with them.

"Paul was actually meant to receive information from an individual that was not classified," he said.

"These were cultural things, a trip to a cathedral, Paul's holiday... photographs. But as it turned out, it contained
classified information."

He said there could be no talk of a prisoner exchange until a trial was completed and that "as a rule people are kept in custody" in Russia.

"I saw him last week... he feels well, he has a sense of dignity," the lawyer added.

The 48-year-old's arrest raised speculation he could be swapped for one of the Russians held in the US, such as gun rights activist Maria Butina.

Butina was convicted of being a "foreign agent" in the US last month.

Moscow has rejected the idea, saying it does not treat people as "pawns" in diplomatic games.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Moscow told Russian media it was "closely following" the case.

We "continue to urge Russia to follow international law and provide a quick, fair and transparent trial", Andrea Kalan said.

The US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, paid a visit to Mr Whelan at Moscow's Lefortovo prison.

Mr Whelan's family said he was in Moscow for a friend's wedding and US security experts have raised doubts over whether he was a spy.

He also holds British, Irish and Canadian passports but his family said in a statement that the UK and Canadian governments had been denied consular access.

Spying charges carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.