9 Apr 2020 17:46

Moscow City Court to begin trying case of Whelan suspected of espionage on April 13; suspect to be brought to courtroom - lawyer

MOSCOW. April 9 (Interfax) - The Moscow City Court has not postponed the first hearing as part of the trial of Paul Whelan for a second time, defense attorney Vladimir Zherebyonkov said on Thursday.

"I've talked to the judge, and he said that the hearing will be held. Whelan will participate in the proceedings in person. He is due to be brought [to the courtroom]," Zherebyonkov told Interfax. Whelan is a citizen of the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Ireland. He has been indicted for espionage in Russia.

The Moscow City Court earlier adjourned the hearing that was due to be held in late March to April 13, amid the restrictive measures taken to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

Moscow City Court spokesperson Ulyana Solopova confirmed to Interfax that the hearing had not been postponed and Whelan was actually expected to be brought to the courtroom.

She also recalled that the case files were classified and hence the trial would be closed for the public.

Moscow courts, including the Moscow City Court, extended restrictive measures taken due to the coronavirus pandemic through the end of April. The restrictive measures imply that only people representing a party to a case may be allowed in the courtroom.

Whelan, who earlier served in the U.S. Marine Corps, was detained in Moscow on December 28, 2018. He was arraigned for espionage under Article 276 of the Russian Penal Code. This means that if found guilty, he could face between 10 and 20 years in jail.

According to Zherebyonkov, Whelan has been charged with spying for U.S. security services. A flash 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 came to Moscow for a wedding.

Whelan denies any wrongdoing. He has 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.

Zherebyonkov told Interfax earlier that, after studying the case, the defense sees the evidence on which it is based as insufficient and resulting from "provocative actions," which it is determined to prove in court.

Defense attorneys revealed earlier that the state prosecutor was planning to interrogate 13 prosecution witnesses during the trial. All of them are Russian nationals with whom Whelan had contact while in Russia. At the same time, the defense team is planning to summon employees of the embassies of the U.S., the UK, Canada and Ireland, the countries of which Whelan is a citizen.

"We will request that the embassies are questioned in order to prove that Whelan was physically unable to be a spy while a citizen of four countries. It's just impossible," Zherebyonkov said.

In addition to diplomats, "Whelan's friends, those whom he contacted and visited, will also be questioned in court," he said.

According to his lawyer Olga Karlova, Whelan is in the mood "to fight" and asked that the media be told that "he is innocent, and the defense witnesses, whose questioning we are to request in court, will prove that."

The defense team said it hopes the court will manage to clear everything up and render Whelan a fair verdict.