US ‘outraged’ over Russia convicting American businessman for spying
The United States on Monday reacted with “outrage” to the sentencing of an American businessman by a Russian court to 16 years on charges of spying, at the end of a trial held in secret.
“The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict US citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo went on to allege Whelan has bene treated poorly in Russian prison and demanded his “immediate release”.
A Moscow city court has sent Whelan to a maximum security prison.
Whelan’s twin brother David Whelan has said they will appeal the verdict. “The court’s decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process.”
“We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities,” the statement said. “We look to the U.S. government to immediately take steps to bring Paul home.”
Whelan’s lawyer and brother have said he was arrested in a sting operation. The American businessman, who is in corporate security, was arrested from outside a Moscow hotel in December 2018. His lawyer has said he had been handed a thumb-drive, which had confidential information that he did not know about. Whelan is an ex-Marine and holds Canadian, British and Irish passports.
There has been speculation in US media that Whelan was arrested for a swap in which Moscow would like to exchange him for Russians in US custody, which would be one of the two — Viktor Bout, a gun-runner who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to America in 2010; and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot arrested in 2010 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.
There was a third candidate earlier, Maria Butina, who called herself a gun rights activist and had infiltrated conservative circles. She was arrested in July 2018, six months before Whelan, and convicted subsequently for acting as a foreign agent (which is different from spying). She was deported last October.
Media reports indicate Russia may be interested in a swap involving Yaroshenko, who is serving a 20 year sentence. His American lawyer has asked for his release citing the Covid-19 pandemic because he has several medical conditions. Russian ambassador to the US wrote to Attorney General William Barr in April seeking “humane treatment” of the incarcerate pilot.