28 Jul 2022 09:03

Lawyers unaware of plans to exchange Paul Whelan for Viktor Bout, but don't rule it out

MOSCOW. July 28 (Interfax) - The defense team for U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who was earlier sentenced in Russia for espionage, does not have information about any plans to exchange Whelan for Russian citizen Viktor Bout, held in a U.S. prison.

"No one has contacted us yet. There is currently no information regarding such an exchange," Whelan's lawyers Vladimir Zherebenkov and Olga Karlova told Interfax on Wednesday.

"A Whelan-Bout swap is quite realistic," Zherebenkov told Interfax.

"[Konstantin] Yaroshenko has been exchanged, hasn't he? So, why is it unrealistic in their case? There are certain options here," the lawyer said.

"We are very pleased that the United States has at last demonstrated activity, which we have been requesting for a very long time. We have tried many times to arrange for Whelan to return to the U.S. to serve his sentence there, but it did not work out. Therefore, we count on such an exchange, the soonest possible exchange, and hope that our client will return to his home country at last," Karlova said.

Paul Whelan's brother, David Whelan, in turn, told Interfax he is hopeful that Paul will be able to return to the U.S. soon.

"We hope the Russian government responds to the U.S. government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family," David Whelan said.

CNN said on Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the situation, that U.S. President Joe Biden has approved the idea put forth by officials from his administration to try to exchange Viktor Bout, imprisoned in the U.S., for Paul Whelan and U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in turn, has said that he intends to discuss the matter with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an expected phone call.

On June 15, 2020, the Moscow City Court found Whelan, also a citizen of Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom, guilty of espionage and gave him a 16-year sentence. Whelan is serving his term at High-Security Correctional Facility No. 17 in Russia's internal republic of Mordovia.

U.S. basketball player Griner was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February 2022 after cannabis oil was found in her hand luggage. Griner was charged with illegal possession of narcotic substances without intent of drug dealing and large-scale drug smuggling.

Griner has been remanded in custody, and her case is being handled by the Khimki City Court.

Viktor Bout was given a 25-year sentence by a U.S. court in 2012 after being convicted on arms trafficking charges. Bout is serving his sentence in a prison in Marion, Illinois. He denies any wrongdoing and asserts that his international air transport business was completely legal.