Russia extends pre-trial custody of US citizen
Paul Whelan (pictured), an American held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison on espionage charges, has had his pre-trial detention until December 29, according to US embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross.
Russia says he was caught with state secrets on a memory stick.
As the judge delivered his ruling, Whelan defied orders to remain silent, reading a statement from his cage guarded by an FSB agent wearing a balaclava.
“Russia says it caught James Bond on a spy mission. In reality, they abducted Mr Bean on holiday,” Whelan announced.
Demands for his release are growing from the US authorities.
“Three hundred days in Lefortovo. Without unrestricted legal assistance. Without unrestricted consular access. Without phone calls with family. Without evidence. This is not an open or fair process. Enough is enough,” Ross tweeted.
An ex-US marine, Whelan denies the espionage charges and his family says he travelled to Russia for a wedding and is a victim of entrapment.
A regular visitor to Russia, who made Russian friends over the years, Whelan was arrested at the Metropol hotel in December 2018. Whelan claims he was preparing for a wedding when an old friend appeared at his hotel room unexpectedly. Soon after security officers arrested him for receiving state secrets.
Whelan claims the USB stick they found was planted by his friend, who he says was an FSB officer who betrayed him.
He has become increasingly defiant during his court appearances, which occur every three months.
His brother, David, said he was not surprised about the fourth extension, adding that the lawyer thought a trial was now unlikely before spring 2020.
Whelan’s lawyers say they have still seen nothing to prove his guilt.
“The Russian government continues to drag out Paul’s case,” David Whelan said. “Unfortunately, the Russian legal system is not concerned with justice.”
The US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling on Russia to present “credible evidence” or release Whelan.
“Congress will not tolerate the indefinite detention of a US citizen without evidence,” said Democrat congresswoman Haley Stevens. “We have repeatedly asked the Russian government to provide Paul with a fair and transparent judicial process to no avail.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly told Russian news agency RIA-Novosti that Whelan would not be exchanged for Maria Butina, a Russian serving an 18-month sentence in the US after admitting to acting as an unregistered foreign agent. She was released from a prison in Tallahassee this week.
Paul Whelan. Picture credit: YouTube