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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is demanding that Russia release an American corporate security executive after a Russian court sentenced the man to 16 years in prison for spying.
Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Paul Whelan, former director of global security for auto-parts supplier BorgWarner, in December 2018 for keeping a flash drive that allegedly contained Russia state secrets. The Moscow City Court convicted Whelan of spying on Monday and sentenced him to 16 years in prison, according to The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan denounced the trial as a “mockery of justice” immediately after the ruling was announced. Sullivan added that the verdict “will not have a positive effect” on relations between Washington and Moscow.
“The Russian Federation wouldn’t talk about releasing Paul until he was convicted,” Sullivan told The Associated Press. “And so, now that that has happened, we hope that the U.S. government will speak to the Russian government. We will have to continue to treat it as a political case, which is what it is, and seek a political solution for his freedom.”
Pompeo also released a statement slamming Russia and its justice system and demanding Whelan’s “immediate release.”
“The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict U.S. citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses,” Pompeo said. “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.”
“The treatment of Paul Whelan at the hands of Russian authorities has been appalling. Russia failed to provide Mr. Whelan with a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal; and during his detention has put his life at risk by ignoring his long-standing medical condition, and unconscionably kept him isolated from family and friends,” Pompeo added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied accusations that Whelan, a former Marine and Michigan native, was being held as a political prisoner. They also declined to comment on allegations that Moscow is using Whelan to secure the release of several Russians in U.S. custody.
Vladimir Zherebenkov, Whelan’s Russian lawyer, said that Moscow is considering swapping Whelan for Russians Viktor Bout, an arms trader, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.
“There have been proposals of exchange, the issue is being discussed,” Zherebenkov said according to the AP.
Whelan maintains that he is innocent and that he was framed. He has visited Russia several times before and was in the country for a friend’s wedding, his lawyer said. Whelan’s flash drive only contained pictures that he had taken of Russian churches and other buildings because he is interested in architecture.
Russia’s Federal Security Service said that agents had caught Whelan “red-handed,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
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