Ireland asks to meet ex-US marine held in Moscow over spying

Paul Whelan (48) holds Irish and other passports and seeks consular assistance

Paul Whelan, a former US marine living in Michigan, has been arrested on spying charges in Russia. Photograph: Family handout/PA

Paul Whelan, a former US marine living in Michigan, has been arrested on spying charges in Russia. Photograph: Family handout/PA

 

Irish officials have sought permission from the Russian government to visit a former US marine being held on suspicion of espionage.

It emerged on Friday that Paul Whelan, a 48 year old who lives in Michigan, legally holds US, Irish, Canadian and British passports.

Mr Whelan, who was arrested on December 28th, has made repeated visits to Russia and has used social media to befriend Russians, including people with ties to the military.

On Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin confirmed Irish Embassy staff in Moscow had received a request for consular assistance from an Irish citizen “currently detained in Russia”.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will provide all possible and appropriate assistance in relation to this case,” a spokesman said.

Lefortovo Prison

Mr Whelan, who is being held in Lefortovo Prison, was in Moscow to help plan the wedding of another former marine because he had been to Russia several times before, his twin brother David said.

No further information regarding his links to Ireland have yet emerged.

Former CIA officers have been reported as saying it is unlikely Mr Whelan was working for an American intelligence service. It would be considered highly unusual for the US to send officers into Russia without diplomatic protections.

Mr Whelan, who works for a global car parts manufacturer, does not have the kind of business contacts normally of interest to intelligence services.

The UK’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We are giving him every support that we can, but we don’t agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games.

“It is desperately worrying, not just for the individual but their families, and we are extremely worried about him and his family.”

USB stick

Mr Whelan is understood to have been born in Ottawa to British parents. A spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada said a Canadian citizen was arrested in Russia but did not say whether any action was being taken on his behalf.

Russia has released little official information about the evidence against him.

A report by Rosbalt, a Russian news agency close to Moscow’s security services, quoted an unidentified intelligence source as saying Mr Whelan was arrested in his hotel room five minutes after receiving a USB stick containing the names of all the employees at a classified security agency.

In the US, however, Russian political analyst Kirill Rogov dismissed the Rosbalt version, noting that nothing was reported about the Russian who handed over the stick, which suggested that the whole thing had a “made-for-TV” air about it. – Additional reporting New York Times