Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine held in Moscow on suspicion of spying said in a Friday statement he had been threatened by a Russian investigator and harassed in custody, accusations that are adding to strains in U.S.-Russian relations.
Paul Whelan, who, interestingly, holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. Having this many passports could mean that Whelan is an actual spy, and if found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in jail.
Whelan, whose pre-detention was extended until the end of August at a hearing on Friday in Moscow, told reporters he believed the case against him was politically motivated revenge for U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia.
“I have been threatened. My personal safety has been threatened,” he said from inside a cage in the courtroom. “There are abuses and harassment that I am constantly subjected to.”
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information. Whelan’s lawyer says his client thinks he was set up by the acquaintance and the FSB.
Whelan thought the flash drive contained holiday photos, the lawyer has said; a classic denial.
Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said his sibling had been falsely accused, wrongfully detained, and will “continue to be mistreated unless one of the governments of the nations of which he is a citizen intervene on his behalf.”
During Friday’s hearing, Whelan asked the court to have FSB investigator Alexei Khizhnyak taken off the case and accused him of “insulting my dignity and threatening my life,” the Interfax news agency reported.
The judge told Whelan he only had the right under Russian law to request the replacement of court or prosecuting officials, but not an investigator.