Ex-US marine with Irish passport accused of spying by Russia ‘had state secrets’

Paul Whelan’s lawyer says ‘information constituting state secret’ was found

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage, is seen behind glass during a hearing at a court in Moscow. Photograph: AFP

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage, is seen behind glass during a hearing at a court in Moscow. Photograph: AFP

 

A Russian lawyer for Paul Whelan, the US citizen accused of spying on Russia, has said his client was carrying state secrets when he was arrested in Moscow last month but may not have realised it.

Mr Whelan, an ex-marine who legally holds US, Irish, Canadian and British passports, has been accused of an unspecified “act of espionage”, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“I can only confirm that information constituting state secret was found in the course of Whelan’s detention,” Vladimir Zherebenkov, a court-appointed lawyer, told journalists at a Moscow court on Tuesday.

Vladimir Zherebenkov (centre), the lawyer for Paul Whelan, speaks to the media after a hearing of an appeal on Mr Whelan’s arrest on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA
Vladimir Zherebenkov (centre), the lawyer for Paul Whelan, speaks to the media after a hearing of an appeal on Mr Whelan’s arrest on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA

“I do not know how he got it, and what he was supposed to do with it; it is also unknown whether Whelan was aware that he possessed secret information. There is nothing but conjectures so far.”

A judge at the court ruled that Mr Whelan would remain under arrest in Lefortovo prison until at least February 28th as authorities continue their investigation.

Mr Whelan appeared in public at the court on Tuesday for the first time since his arrest for a pre-trial detention hearing. The court proceedings were closed to the press because the case materials are secret, but Mr Whelan could be seen by journalists after the judge delivered his sentence.

Photographs from the court showed Mr Whelan in dark trousers and a light blue dress shirt over a T-shirt. Police escorting Mr Whelan wore balaclavas to obscure their identities.

Paul Whelan (right), who has been accused of spying, and his lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov (left) during a hearing of an appeal on his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow. Photograph: EPA
Paul Whelan (right), who has been accused of spying, and his lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov (left) during a hearing of an appeal on his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow. Photograph: EPA

Since December, anonymously-sourced reports in Russian media have claimed Mr Whelan received a thumb drive with secret information about Russian government employees. But the content of the charges against him have not been made public by officials.

Some western analysts have suggested that Russia arrested Mr Whelan in order to set up an exchange, although Moscow has denied that.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, last week said Mr Whelan had been caught “red-handed” when he was arrested by FSB officers at Moscow’s downtown Metropol hotel. Family members have said Mr Whelan was in Moscow for a wedding.

On Tuesday, ahead of Mr Whelan’s court appearance, his lawyer said he could confirm information made public by the foreign ministry . But his remarks confirming Whelan’s alleged possession of a “state secret” appeared to go further.

Vladimir Zherebenkov, the lawyer of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of spying, speaks with the media outside the court building in Moscow. Photograph: AFP
Vladimir Zherebenkov, the lawyer of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of spying, speaks with the media outside the court building in Moscow. Photograph: AFP

Because the case is related to national security, Mr Zherebenkov said he was “forbidden from commenting on the case material”, except that which had been made public by the government.

Mr Whelan is the security director for a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, and earlier served two tours in Iraq. He was given a bad-conduct discharge in 2008. - Guardian