24 Dec 2019 18:08

Moscow court extends suspected spy Whelan's pretrial arrest until end of March

MOSCOW. Dec 24 (Interfax) - The Moscow City Court has ruled to extend the pretrial custody term for Paul Whelan, a national of the United States, Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom, who is accused in Russia of spying, an Interfax correspondent reported.

"The court resolves to extend the term during which the accused Whelan will remain in custody until March 29, 2020," the judge said in handing down the ruling on Tuesday.

The hearing was held behind closed doors at the prosecution's request as Whelan's case has been classified.

Whelan's defense lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov had said earlier that the case was heard by the Moscow City Court as the investigation asked for extending his client's custody term for more than one year.

U.S. citizen 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. The embassies of those countries in Moscow have received his requests for help. Whelan was charged with espionage. If he is found guilty, he could face ten to 20 years in jail. Investigators said that he was spying for U.S. security services. The flash drive he was found carrying contained information constituting state secrets.

According to Zherebenkov, Whelan pleaded not guilty and described his prosecution as a mistake. He also said he hoped that investigators would get to the bottom of the case.

Whelan's brother David said he had come to Moscow for a wedding. He also said that Whelan is a discharged marine. The Whelan family has asked the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Embassy in Russia, and the Department of State for assistance, David Whelan said.

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

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

The investigation into Whelan's case has been completed, and he and his lawyers are studying the case files. It was reported earlier that the defense might finish studying the case before the end of the year.