28 Feb 2020 17:58

Russia's FSB completes preliminary investigation into Whelan case

MOSCOW. Feb 28 (Interfax) - Vladimir Zherebenkov, a lawyer for U.S., UK, Canadian, and Irish citizen Paul Whelan, who is facing charges of espionage in Russia, has announced the conclusion of the preliminary investigation into his client's case.

"We've finished reading the materials of the criminal case and have signed the relevant documents. The preliminary investigation in this case has been completed. Next week, the materials are expected to be sent to the Prosecutor General's Office, which will approve the indictment and subsequently forward the case to court," Zherebenkov told Interfax.

Having finished reading the case materials, the defense team has filed a motion with the Russian Federal Security Service demanding the closure of the criminal case due to the absence of any crime, he said.

"We consider this evidence to be insufficient and believe that the charges are based on provocative actions. In this context, we have filed a motion with the investigator demanding that the case be closed due to the absence of any crime on the part of my client's activities," Zherebenkov said.

If investigators refuse to close the case against Whelan and send the materials to the Prosecutor General's Office, it will have two weeks to study the materials, the lawyer said. Consequently, the case may be forwarded to court at the end of March, he said.

The United States embassy in Moscow said later on Friday that it sees "shameful treatment by Russian authorities" of Whelan.

"There's clearly NO crime and certainly NO justice. We repeat and repeat: this is shameful treatment by Russian authorities of a U.S. citizen," the embassy said on Twitter.

"Paul Whelan's spent 14 months in a Moscow prison. He's allowed NO outside medical care and NO phone calls to family. We've seen NO evidence," it said.

U.S. citizen Paul Whelan was detained in Moscow on December 28, 2018. It later emerged that he is also a citizen of three other countries: the UK, Ireland, and Canada. Whelan is charged with espionage. If found guilty, he could face between 10 and 20 years in jail.

According to his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, Whelan is charged with spying for U.S. security services. A USB drive seized from Whelan was found to contain state secrets. The defense argued that Whelan had expected the USB drive to contain personal data related to his earlier visits to Russia and had not had time to study its contents.

Whelan's brother David said that Whelan had come to Moscow for a wedding. He also said that Whelan is a discharged marine.

Whelan denies any wrongdoing and described his prosecution as an act of provocation and "absurd political kidnapping."

At the time of his detention, Whelan was security director for BorgWarner, a car parts manufacturer. His brother said on December 18, 2019 that BorgWarner had made Paul redundant.