Moscow, Wash­ing­ton clash on ar­rest

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By REN QI in Moscow renqi@chi­

Moscow and Wash­ing­ton ex­changed a flurry of re­bukes over the de­ten­tion of a United States cit­i­zen who Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties said was sus­pected of es­pi­onage.

Rus­sia has al­lowed con­sular ac­cess to Amer­i­can Paul Whe­lan, who was de­tained in Moscow on Dec 28, the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry said on Wed­nes­day.

Whe­lan was taken into cus­tody dur­ing an “act of es­pi­onage in Moscow”, the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice said on Mon­day.

A crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened against him, and if found guilty of spy­ing, he might be sen­tenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.

Whe­lan is the head of global se­cu­rity for a Michi­gan-based auto parts sup­plier, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. The 48-year-old was in Moscow to at­tend a wed­ding when he dis­ap­peared, his brother, David Whe­lan, said on Tues­day.

The US State Depart­ment said that it was no­ti­fied of the de­ten­tion of Whe­lan, re­quested con­sular ac­cess and ex­pected “Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties to pro­vide it”.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said on Wed­nes­day that the govern­ment pro­vided con­sular ac­cess to Whe­lan, and he was vis­ited by US Am­bas­sador Jon Hunts­man, who ex­pressed his sup­port and of­fered the em­bassy’s as­sis­tance, the State Depart­ment said in a state­ment later that day.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said, “If the de­ten­tion is not ap­pro­pri­ate, we will de­mand his im­me­di­ate re­turn.”

Pom­peo said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has “made clear to the Rus­sians our ex­pec­ta­tion that we will learn more about the charges and come to un­der­stand what it is he’s been ac­cused of ”.

Whe­lan’s fam­ily posted a state­ment on Twit­ter, “We are deeply con­cerned for his safety and well­be­ing. His in­no­cence is un­doubted, and we trust that his rights will be re­spected.”

David Whe­lan said in an in­ter­view that his brother had been to Rus­sia sev­eral times, so when a fel­low for­mer Ma­rine was plan­ning a wed­ding in Moscow, he was asked to go along to help out.

He said he learned of his brother’s ar­rest while search­ing the in­ter­net on Mon­day.

The de­ten­tion came af­ter Rus­sian cit­i­zen Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a Wash­ing­ton court on Dec 13 to one con­spir­acy charge, ad­mit­ting that she acted as an un­reg­is­tered for­eign agent to ad­vance Moscow’s in­ter­ests, ac­cord­ing to Xin­hua News Agency.

Butina, 29, was ar­rested on July 15 and charged with con­spir­acy to act as an agent of the Rus­sian govern­ment. In Moscow, the For­eign Min­istry de­scribed charges against Butina as “false ac­cu­sa­tions”.

The ar­rest was an­nounced on July 16, only hours af­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fin­ished a sum­mit meet­ing and a news con­fer­ence with his coun­ter­part, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, Fin­land.

Putin said that Butina has no ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, and that the whole case against her was un­founded, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sia’s TASS News Agency.

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