20 Apr 2020 18:47

Moscow City Court interviews main witness for prosecution in Whelan case - lawyer

MOSCOW. April 20 (Interfax) - The Moscow City Court on Monday interviewed a witness in the case opened against U.S., British, Canadian, and Irish citizen Paul Whelan, who is facing charges of espionage in Russia, Whelan's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told Interfax.

"The court interviewed the main witness for the prosecution, who insists on his initial testimony. We believe that there are discrepancies in his testimony, but we will analyze all this and will contest it at the stage of the presentation of evidence by the defense team," Zherebenkov said following the Moscow City Court's session on Monday.

Written and material evidence in Whelan's case was also examined at today's court session, he said. It includes materials related to Whelan's detention and the opening of the criminal case against him, as well as documents dealing with the examination and seizure of material evidence, including a flash drive.

"The next session will be held tomorrow, on April 21," the lawyer said.

During the court session tomorrow, the state prosecutor will continue presenting evidence of Whelan's guilt - more witnesses will be interviewed and the written materials of the case will continue to be examined, he said.

Zherebenkov told Interfax earlier that the prosecutor plans to interview 13 witnesses, some of whom could appear in court already today. All witnesses are Russian citizens whom Whelan contacted in Russia.

Since Whelan's case includes classified materials, as well as due to restrictions introduced at the court as part of coronavirus containment measures, the court proceedings are taking place behind closed doors.

Due to the abovementioned restrictions, U.S. Ambassador in Moscow John Sullivan again was not allowed inside the courthouse on Monday.

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 Criminal Code. This means that if found guilty, he could face between 10 and 20 years in jail.

According to Zherebenkov, 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.

Zherebenkov 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.