Hearings in spying case of British-American man begin in Moscow

Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 after a Russian security agent handed him a flash drive that allegedly contained state secrets

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Paul Whelan, seen here being escorted inside a court house, has been in custody since December 2018
Paul Whelan, seen here being escorted inside a court house, has been in custody since December 2018 Credit: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

A Russian court on Monday extended the arrest for a British-American citizen held on spying charges as the trial began following a months-long investigation.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who holds British, American, Irish and Canadian passports, faces charges of spying for allegedly possessing documents that contain state secrets. He could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Russian investigators would not reveal details of the indictment, citing secrecy of the case, but Mr Whelan’s attorney has said that his client was framed after he was given a flash drive with documents containing state secrets right before he was arrested.

Mr Whelan insists that the man, an acquaintance who turned out to be a Russian security agent, told him there were pictures of his recent holiday on the USB stick.

The trial for Mr Whelan, 50, began behind closed doors in Moscow on Monday after the security specialist for a US-based auto parts company was arrested in his hotel room in the Russian capital in December 2018.

The judge on Monday turned down the defence’s motion to drop the charges, and promptly ordered to extend Mr Whelan’s arrest for another six months. The hearings in the case have been adjourned until an indefinite date.

Mr Whelan’s arrest has raised speculation that he could be held for a potential prisoner swap for one of the Russians held in the United States.

The British, the US and the Canadian ambassadors were allowed to briefly speak to Mr Whelan at the hearing.

Deborah Bronnert, the British ambassador, said in a statement that her visit should “reinforce the point: we, and the world, are watching closely.”

Mr Whelan has complained of poor treatment and a lack of medical care in prison while Russian officials refuted the reports.