US de­nounces Mich. man’s spy­ing con­vic­tion in Rus­sia

Orlando Sentinel - - Nation & World - By Vladimir Isachenkov

MOSCOW — A Rus­sian court con­victed an Amer­i­can cor­po­rate se­cu­rity ex­ec­u­tive Mon­day of es­pi­onage and sen­tenced him to 16 years in prison af­ter a closed trial that the U.S. de­nounced as a “mock­ery of jus­tice,” and it an­grily said his treat­ment in jail was “ap­palling.”

Paul Whe­lan, a for­mer Ma­rine from Novi, Michi­gan, has in­sisted he was in­no­cent, say­ing he was set up when he was ar­rested in Moscow in De­cem­ber 2018 while he was vis­it­ing Rus­sia to at­tend a friend’s wed­ding.

“We have se­ri­ous con­cerns that Mr. Whe­lan was deprived of the fair trial guar­an­tees that Rus­sia is re­quired to pro­vide him in ac­cor­dance with its in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights obli­ga­tions,” U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said in a state­ment.

The 50-year-old Whe­lan, who also holds Bri­tish, Ir­ish and Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship, has pub­licly com­plained of poor prison con­di­tions and has said his life is in dan­ger.

Two weeks ago, Whe­lan un­der­went a her­nia op­er­a­tion, which his twin brother, David, de­scribed as “emer­gency surgery which is never a good sign.”

He said his brother had been al­lowed one phone call in 18 months and had voiced con­cern about coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions in Moscow’s Le­for­tovo prison, where he was be­ing held.

Pom­peo said the U.S. was “out­raged” by the ver­dict and noted that Paul Whe­lan’s treat­ment “has been ap­palling,” adding that au­thor­i­ties ig­nored his med­i­cal con­di­tion and kept him iso­lated from fam­ily and friends.

He called the pro­ceed­ings “a se­cret trial, with se­cret ev­i­dence and with­out ap­pro­pri­ate al­lowances for de­fense wit­nesses.”

The Moscow City Court, where the trial took place, said it was held be­hind closed doors be­cause au­thor­i­ties saw it as nec­es­sary for con­sid­er­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion.

Speak­ing to re­porters af­ter the ver­dict, U.S. Am­bas­sador John Sul­li­van called the trial “a mock­ery of jus­tice.”

Whe­lan’s lawyer has said his client was handed a flash drive that had clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion on it that he didn’t know about.

David Whe­lan de­scribed the case as po­lit­i­cal and voiced hope that the U.S. gov­ern­ment will help gain his free­dom.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov re­jected al­le­ga­tions that Whe­lan was a po­lit­i­cal hostage, telling re­porters his guilt was proved at the trial.

Peskov re­fused to com­ment on whether Rus­sia could be eye­ing his ex­change for some of its cit­i­zens in the U.S. cus­tody.

Whe­lan’s Rus­sian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenko­v, pointed at Rus­sian of­fi­cial state­ments sig­nal­ing a pos­si­bil­ity that Whe­lan could be ex­changed for Rus­sians Vik­tor Bout and Kon­stantin Yaroshenko.

“There have been pro­pos­als of ex­change,” he said.

Bout, a Rus­sian arms trader, is serv­ing a 25-year sen­tence in the U.S. for a 2011 con­vic­tion on charges he con­spired to sell mil­lions of dol­lars of weapons to Colom­bian rebels. He in­sisted he was a le­git­i­mate busi­ness­man.

Yaroshenko, a Rus­sian pi­lot, is serv­ing a 20-year sen­tence for con­spir­acy to smug­gle co­caine into the U.S. af­ter he was ar­rested in Liberia in 2010 and ex­tra­dited to the United States.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSE­V/GETTY-AFP

Paul Whe­lan, a for­mer U.S. Ma­rine ac­cused of es­pi­onage and ar­rested in Rus­sia in De­cem­ber 2018, stands in­side a de­fen­dants’ cage Mon­day as he waits to hear his ver­dict.

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