Photo courtesy of the Whelan family via AP
Michigan resident Paul Whelan is being detained in Moscow for alleged espionage.
Novi resident Paul Whelan was indicted on Thursday by Russian authorities with charges of espionage.
The retired Marine staff sergeant and Iraq War veteran was detained by Russian officials on Dec. 28 and is being held in Moscow for violating Article 276
of the Russian Criminal Code, Interfax reports
. If convicted, Whelan could face up to 20 years in prison.
Whelan's family dismisses the espionage charges, noting that the 48-year-old was in Moscow for a friend's wedding, AP reports.
Whelan first began visiting Russia in 2007, just one year before he was convicted in a 2008 court-martial on charges related to larceny. Since then, he worked at Kelly Services, a global temporary staffing agency in Troy, and started Kingsmead Arms, an online firearms business based out of his home. Since 2017, Whelan has been employed by Auburn Hill's BorgWarner as the auto supplier's global security director.
In a statement to AP
, former CIA agent and the former head of Moscow intelligence operations John Sipher said that Whelan does not fit the profile of someone who would be used in an intelligence operation in the Russian capitol.
"Due to the oppressive level of counterintelligence scrutiny in Moscow, we do not put people without diplomatic immunity in harm’s way," Sipher says. "Nor do we handle low-level intelligence collection operations in a place like Moscow.”
An unidentified source told Rosbalt
that Whelan was apprehended in Moscow's Metropol Hotel just minutes after receiving a USB drive containing a list of employees from a classified Russian department. According to the source, Whelan is suspected of using the Russian social media platform VKontakte to create a network of local contacts. Whelan last used the Facebook-derived platform on Dec. 28, the day of his arrest.
According to Whelan's court-appointed criminal defense attorney, Vladimir A. Zherebenkov, Whelan will petition for bail.
“I presume that he is innocent,
because for now
I haven’t seen any evidence against him that would prove otherwise,” Zherebenkov told the New York Times
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