Russia Reportedly Charged Former US Marine with Espionage

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2019-01-03

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Russia has charged former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan with espionage, according to an Interfax news agency report that has not been independently verified.

On Monday, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officials said the 48-year-old Whelan had been detained on Dec. 28 "while carrying out an act of espionage," and a criminal probe has been ordered.

The FSB provided no further details, but Russia's state-run TASS news agency said Whelan faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Whelan is employed as director of global security at BorgWarner, an American automotive parts supplier.

Whelan's family learned of his arrest only after it was reported by Russian state news outlets, prompting the family to contact congressional representatives and U.S. diplomats.

"We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being," the family said. "His innocence is undoubted, and we trust that his rights will be respected."

Whelan's arrest coincides with several spy scandals that have exacerbated tensions between Russia and the West, including the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.

News of Whelan's detention came less than 24 hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a New Year's greeting to U.S. President Donald Trump in which he said Moscow is amenable to a continuing dialogue with Washington on a range of topics.

In 2016, Izvestia, a Kremlin-aligned news outlet, reported there were 13 U.S. citizens in Russian jails at the time. The Kremlin has not since published any details on other Americans currently in Russian detention.