A Russian court has sentenced former US marine Paul Whelan to 16 years in jail after finding him guilty of spying for the United States in a closed trial which diplomats said was unfair and opaque.
Russian authorities say Whelan was caught with classified information on a computer driveWhelan claims he thought the drive contained holiday photos from an acquaintanceThe US ambassador to Russia says he is ‘outraged’ by the decision
Whelan, who holds US, British, Canadian and Irish passports, has been in custody since he was detained by agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service in a Moscow hotel room on December 28, 2018.
Russian authorities said Whelan, 50, was caught red-handed with a computer flash drive containing classified information.
Whelan, who pleaded not guilty, said he was set up in a sting and had thought the drive, given to him by a Russian acquaintance, contained holiday photos.
US diplomats have described the case as a « significant obstacle » to improving already poor ties between the two countries.
They have repeatedly said there is no evidence against him and asked for his release.
State prosecutors, who accused Whelan of being at least a ranking US military intelligence colonel, had asked the court to sentence him to 18 years in a maximum-security prison.
Ambassador ‘outraged’ by verdict
Whelan’s brother says lawyers will appeal the verdict.(.: Maxim Shemetov)
US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, John J Sullivan, said the sentence was not justified.
« I am disappointed, crestfallen, outraged at what I’ve just heard, » Mr Sullivan said.
« An American citizen who is also a citizen of three other countries, United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, has been sentenced to 16 years, so I’m told. »
He said Whelan could not understand the judgement that was read out in court.
« He’s been sentenced to 16 years in prison with no evidence that’s been produced, » Mr Sullivan said.
« There was no evidence recited by the judge that justified the detention that he’s already been subjected to, which is a year-and-a-half. »
« As you know, I’ve been following Paul’s case closely since I arrived here as ambassador in January.
« I’ve described these proceedings as a mockery of justice and today just confirmed it. An American citizen has been sentenced to a term of 16 years for a crime for which we have not seen evidence. »
Whelan’s brother, David, said lawyers will appeal the verdict that he denounced as political.
He said in a statement that « 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 US Government to immediately take steps to bring Paul home. »