US demands Russia explain American’s detention on spying charges
BRASILIA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States wants an explanation for why Russia detained a former US Marine on spying charges in Moscow and will demand his immediate return if it determines his detention is inappropriate, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.
US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited the detained man, Paul Whelan, at a detention facility in Moscow and spoke by phone with his family, the State Department said. The United States had expressed concern through diplomatic channels over delayed access to Whelan, who was detained on Friday, a department spokesman said in a statement.
“We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he’s been accused of and if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return,” Pompeo said in Brasilia, where he attended the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday.
Russia’s FSB state security service opened a criminal case against Whelan but it gave no details of his suspected espionage activities. Under Russian law, espionage can carry a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years.
Whelan’s family said on Tuesday that he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a retired Marine and is innocent of the espionage charges against him. He had been staying with the wedding party at Moscow’s Metropol hotel when he went missing, his brother David said.
“His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” Whelan’s family said in a statement.
David Whelan told CNN that his brother, who had served in Iraq, has been to Russia many times in the past for both work and personal trips, and had been acting as a tour guide for some of the wedding guests. His friends filed a missing persons report in Moscow after his disappearance, his brother said.