Paul Whelan, American jailed in Russia, will ask to finish prison sentence in U.S.: Reports

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Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted in Russia of espionage, will request that he finish serving his prison sentence in another country, two of his lawyers reportedly told Russian media Wednesday.

The case has become a flashpoint in already tense U.S.-Russian relations, with Washington complaining about Mr. Whelan‘s treatment and the lack of access to U.S. diplomats while in jail.

“Now we are drawing up a petition to the court on Whelan‘s transfer to another state for serving his sentence there,” said attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported.

Mr. Whelan, 50, holds citizenship in four countries – the U.S., U.K., Canada and Ireland – and will ask that he finish serving his sentence in one of those jurisdictions, said Mr. Zherebenkov, as reported in English by TASS.

“In two or three weeks I will send this petition to the court,” said Mr. Zherebenkov, according to the report. “Now we are working through all its details.”

Olga Karlova, another lawyer for Mr. Whelan, said the petition will be made with the Moscow City Court, where the Marine Corps veteran was tried last year, Russia’s state-run RIA separately reported.

The closed trial culminated in Mr. Whelan being convicted of espionage and sentenced to serve 16 years at a prison labor camp. He denies spying of any sort and says he is being held as a political hostage.

“I remain innocent,” Mr. Whelan said in an audio message he recorded from prison that his family released last month. “No crime of espionage occurred. The secret trial, without evidence, proves those facts.”

Mr. Whelan was born in Canada to British parents of Irish heritage but raised in the U.S. He worked as head of security for a Michigan-based automotive parts company when he was arrested in Moscow in 2018.

President Biden has said he discussed the cases of both Mr. Whelan and Trevor Reed, another Marine veteran jailed in Russia, when he met last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month in Geneva.

“It came up, and we discussed it. We’re going to follow through with that discussion. I am not going to walk away on that,” Mr. Biden told reporters after speaking with Mr. Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.

Moscow has maintained that Mr. Whelan was caught red-handed engaged in spying at the time of his detention. Mr. Whelan and his supporters argue prosecutors never showed any concrete evidence to corroborate the serious allegation of espionage, however.

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