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Man with triple citizenship charged with espionage in Russia requests Irish consular assistance

Paul Whelan, who has denied the charges, could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Paul Whelan
Paul Whelan
Image: Courtesy of the Whelan Family via AP

Updated Jan 4th 2019, 5:30 PM

AN AMERICAN EX-MARINE who holds triple UK, US and Irish citizenship, has been charged with espionage in Russia and has sought consular assistance from Ireland. 

Canadian-born Paul Whelan is a US citizen, but also holds British and Irish passports.

He was detained in Moscow last week and was today charged with with espionage, the latest in a series of spying accusations between Moscow and Washington. 

RTÉ reported today that Whelan has sought consular assistance from Ireland. 

 A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: 

“The Embassy of Ireland in Moscow has requested consular access to an Irish citizen currently detained in Russia after receiving a request for assistance.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will provide all possible and appropriate assistance in relation to this case.

Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain had also offered consular access to Whelan, who was detained in Moscow last week, but had not been able to visit him yet.

“We are giving him every support that we can, but we don’t agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games,” Hunt told the BBC in an interview.

Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov was quoted by the news agency Ria Novosti as saying:

The tribunal has ordered the provisional detention.

Zherebenkov said he had appealed the ruling and asked for Whelan to be released on bail pending the start of the trial.

Whelan, who has denied the charges, could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

His lawyer said the 48-year-old was “behaving in a constructive manner” and that investigators were treating him in a “humane and professional way”.

The charges came a day after the US ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman met Whelan at the Lefortovo prison in Moscow.

“Ambassador Huntsman expressed his support for Mr Whelan and offered the embassy’s assistance,” a State Department spokesperson said following the visit.

The United States has been cautious in its public comments on the case, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying earlier on Wednesday that Washington was trying to learn more about the situation.

‘Act of espionage’

Born in Canada, Whelan was arrested last Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage”, according to Russia’s FSB domestic security service. 

His family has denied he is a spy, saying he was visiting Moscow to attend the wedding of a fellow ex-Marine to a Russian woman.

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

Speaking to Canada’s CBC News, Whelan’s brother David said “there’s no chance” the Russian accusations against his brother were accurate.

Paul Whelan’s employer, US-based automotive components supplier BorgWarner, said that he is the firm’s director of global security.

“He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world,” the company said in a statement.

Whelan’s arrest came after President Vladimir Putin accused Western nations of using espionage cases to try to undermine an increasingly powerful Russia.

US intelligence services have accused Moscow of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged 25 Russians – including members of the GRU military intelligence – and three Russian companies for that alleged interference but they have not been arrested.

In December, Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a Federal Court in Washington to acting as an illegal foreign agent.

Butina faces up to six months in prison, followed by likely deportation.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

© AFP 2019

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