Rus­sia rules out swap for Novi man

The Detroit News - - NATION & WORLD - As­so­ci­ated Press

Moscow – Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry on Fri­day dis­missed sug­ges­tions that an Amer­i­can ar­rested in Moscow on sus­pi­cion of spy­ing could be used in a pris­oner swap for a Rus­sian held in the United States.

Paul Whe­lan, a for­mer U.S. Ma­rine, was ar­rested in Moscow last month on sus­pi­cion of es­pi­onage. Whe­lan’s ar­rest raised spec­u­la­tion that he could be swapped for one of the Rus­sians held in the U.S. such as gun rights ac­tivist Maria Butina, who has pleaded guilty to act­ing as a for­eign agent in the U.S.

But Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said at a brief­ing that Whe­lan is ac­cused of es­pi­onage and will face trial.

“At the cur­rent stage, there is no talk about any sort of ex­change,” she said, dis­miss­ing a pos­si­ble swap as “spec­u­la­tions and fakes.”

Zakharova also said Rus­sia would al­low diplo­mats from Bri­tain, Ire­land and Canada as well as the U.S. to visit Whe­lan, who holds four cit­i­zen­ships.

Yevgeny Yenikeyev, a pris­oner rights ac­tivist, told the In­ter­fax news agency he vis­ited Moscow’s Le­for­tovo Prison, where Whe­lan is be­ing held. He said Whe­lan’s cell was re­cently re­paired and has hot wa­ter, a toi­let and a TV.

But Yenikeyev said prison of­fi­cials didn’t let him or other ac­tivists see or talk to Whe­lan, say­ing that au­thor­i­ties said he doesn’t speak Rus­sian and they could not mon­i­tor a con­ver­sa­tion in English. He said the ac­tivists will try to visit Whe­lan again.

The de­fense lawyer for Whe­lan said a week ago that he is try­ing to get Whe­lan, a 48-year-old cor­po­rate se­cu­rity di­rec­tor from Auburn Hills­based Borg Warner, re­leased from the Moscow prison. The court would have 15 days after Rus­sia’s winter hol­i­days ended Jan. 9 to make a decision on bail.

In Rus­sia, a spy­ing con­vic­tion car­ries a prison sen­tence of 10 to 20 years.

Whe­lan’s brother, David Whe­lan, has said in ear­lier in­ter­views that he had no idea why his brother was tar­geted by the Rus­sian se­cu­rity ser­vices. Paul Whe­lan was in Moscow to help plan the wed­ding of an­other for­mer Ma­rine be­cause he had been to Rus­sia sev­eral times be­fore, the brother said.


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