Former US marine Paul Whelan jailed for 16 years in Russia for espionage

Irish passport holder says he was framed by security services as US expresses ‘outrage’

The United States has expressed "outrage" over a Russian court's decision to sentence a former US marine with Irish citizenship to 16 years in jail for spying.

Paul Whelan denied the charges during a trial that was held behind closed doors in Moscow, and claimed he was framed when arrested in 2018 for allegedly taking possession of a computer memory stick that contained Russian state secrets.

Mr Whelan (50), who has US, Irish, UK and Canadian passports, says he was given the device by a friend who is thought to work for Russia’s FSB security services, in the belief that it held photographs from a trip they had taken together.

“The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict US citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defence witnesses,” said US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.


“The treatment of Paul Whelan at the hands of Russian authorities has been appalling . . . and during detention [Moscow] has put his life at risk by ignoring his long-standing medical condition, and unconscionably kept him isolated from family and friends. We demand Paul Whelan’s immediate release.”

The family of Mr Whelan, who was a security director for a car parts company in Michigan before his arrest, said in a statement that “the court’s decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process”.

“We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities. We look to the US government to immediately take steps to bring Paul home.”

Prisoner swap

Vladimir Zherebenkov, Mr Whelan’s lawyer, said FSB officers had always spoken of the case as part of a potential prisoner swap with the US; the Russians who feature most frequently in talk of an exchange are arms dealer Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot jailed in the US on drug smuggling charges.

“During the investigation they suggested more than once that he confess his guilt and be exchanged. But he wants to be cleared,” Mr Zherebenkov said of Mr Whelan, adding that they would probably appeal against the verdict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted Mr Whelan – who was a regular visitor to Russia and self-professed Russophile – had a fair trial and was not a "political prisoner".

“The Kremlin doesn’t deal with such issues,” Mr Peskov said of a possible prisoner swap, “and in this case I have no comment at all, naturally, on the court decision.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said: “We are closely monitoring recent developments in Mr Whelan’s case and will continue to provide all possible consular assistance as appropriate. It is the policy of the department not to comment on the details of individual consular cases.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe