8 Nov 2021 15:47

Whelan's expulsion to U.S. could help return Russian citizens Bout, Yaroshenko - lawyer

NIZHNY NOVGOROD. Nov 8 (Interfax) - If United States citizen Paul Whelan, convicted of espionage in Russia, is expelled to his home country, this could help return Russian citizens convicted in the U.S. who are serving their time there, such as Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, Whelan's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said.

"We've exposed him as a spy, but he's an intelligence officer for them [the U.S.]. Apparently, our intelligence officers are there, as well. If a question has been raised about exchanging [Whelan] for Bout and Yaroshenko, then they're not ordinary citizens, either. Let's make an attempt, and we'll get our citizen back in exchange. This is something that's worth trying, and I believe the justice system should be seeking that," Zherebenkov told journalists on Monday in Nizhny Novgorod, where a court heard an appeal against a lower court's decision not to consider a request on transferring Whelan to the U.S. to serve the remainder of his prison term at home.

The Russian and U.S. presidents discussed Whelan's possible exchange at a meeting, but nothing has gone further than that discussion, and there are no negotiations between the two countries on the matter at present, he said.

"Why should we waste money on a foreign citizen? Quite a lot of our own people are being held behind bars in much worse conditions," Zherebenkov said.

Commenting on Whelan's time in the penitentiary, Zherebenkov said that staying there is much harder for his client than for other inmates because of the language barrier and differences in mindsets.

"That is, a host of humanitarian rights have been violated, which is quite cruel and inhuman. Moreover, his elderly relatives can't come to visit him," Zherebenkov said.

While Whelan is a retired military officer, he cannot receive his pension in Russia, nor can he receive periodicals in the English language, he said.

Zherebenkov also mentioned the fact that his client was recently placed in a punitive cell for two weeks.

"He's been in a punitive cell. Didn't like something and said something to someone. Hence, he was put there," Zherebenkov said, adding that the incident was caused by the language barrier.

"He doesn't know the Russian language well enough. Penitentiary officials don't know English. He was reprimanded for failing to understand someone and for not greeting someone," Zherebenkov said.

Whelan works from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., after which he has free time, and he also goes to church, he said.

"There's quite a good church there. He goes to pray there. He gets tea and cookies on Sundays. The place is quite extraordinary there. Of course, it's a horrible middle-of-nowhere kind of place there," Zherebenkov said.

The unit to which Whelan belongs at the penitentiary also includes "one American and two Mexicans, and most of the others are from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan," he said.

On June 15, 2020, the Moscow City Court found U.S. citizen Whelan, also a citizen of Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom, guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in a high-security penitentiary. Whelan pleaded not guilty, but decided not to appeal his sentence, hoping that he would be exchanged.

Whelan is serving his sentence at Penal Colony No. 17 in Russia's internal republic of Mordovia.

Zherebenkov suggested that, if the U.S. does not recognize the legitimacy of Whelan's conviction in Russia, he is unlikely to be transferred to his country.