American Held in Russia on Spying Charge Must Stay in Prison

MOSCOW — An American accused of spying in Russia will spend the rest of the year in a Moscow prison, a judge ruled on Thursday, in a brief court session where the defendant said he had been assaulted by guards and denied medical care.

“My human rights are being violated, my life threatened, medical issues are being denied and my property stolen,” the defendant, Paul N. Whelan, shouted to reporters as the judge read his decision. Ten months after Mr. Whelan’s arrest, the court extended his detention for two months.

Standing in a defendant’s cage in the courtroom, Mr. Whelan said that Russia believes that “it caught James Bond on a spy mission, in reality they’ve adopted Mr. Bean on holiday,” adding that “no evidence of espionage has been provided and does not exist.”

Mr. Whelan, a Marine veteran and citizen of the United States, Canada, Britain and Ireland, appealed to leaders of these states to take firm action to have him released. It was not clear if the message had been heard by diplomatic representatives from the embassies of the four countries, who were quickly pushed out of the courtroom by bailiffs.

Mr. Whelan, 49, developed a network of Russian friends during his frequent visits to the country over the past decade, and most recently had headed security for BorgWarner, an auto parts maker based near Detroit. In December last year, he traveled to Russia to attend a wedding, and was arrested at an upscale Moscow hotel next to the Kremlin.

The Russian authorities accused Mr. Whelan, who had served as a Marine in Iraq, of spying, a charge that can carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in a penal colony. A Russian news agency close to the security services reported in January that a flash drive found in his possession contained a full list of names of the employees of a secret Russian security agency. His Russian lawyer, Vladimir A. Zherebenkov, said that someone Mr. Whelan had considered a friend had slipped the device into his pants pocket.

“Not a single witness said that Paul pushed them to take part in any criminal activity, to do espionage, that he was recruiting them, or in any other way acted like a spy,” said Mr. Zherebenkov after the hearing. “Apart from the person, who planted the flash drive.”

He added that Mr. Whelan had known that witness for about 10 years and had known that the person was “connected with the military.”

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, has described Mr. Whelan as having been “caught red-handed.”

Mr. Whelan’s arrest, which was only made public days later, prompted speculation that he was picked up by Russian law enforcement to be exchanged later for one or more Russians held in American jails — a tactic that Russia has used before. President Vladimir V. Putin has repeatedly expressed outrage at the detention of Russian citizens by the United States.

On Oct 11, another Russian court sentenced Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American citizen, to seven and a half years in prison on drug possession and smuggling charges. Israeli officials have linked Ms. Issachar’s fate to that of a Russian held in Israel and facing extradition to the United States on computer crime charges.

When asked by a reporter whether he was being groomed for an eventual exchange, Mr. Whelan said on Thursday that he “would characterize it that way,” adding that “this is just a hostage situation.”

Mr. Zherebenkov, his lawyer, did not rule out that possibility, saying that court proceedings would likely take a long time and therefore it was not clear “whom they will exchange him for.”

Mr. Zherebenkov said the case has been slowed by the existence of thousands of pages of court documents and the need to translate them into English. He said the defense does not expect to finish reviewing the material until February, with an actual trial starting in April or May.

Until then, it is likely that Mr. Whelan will remain in Lefortovo prison, where he has been taking Russian lessons from his cellmate, a businessman, as well as trying to exercise during his regular walks on the prison’s roof.

On one of these walks, Mr. Whelan said, a prison guard did not like how Mr. Whelan was jumping and singing at the same time. A heated exchange followed, made worse by the language barrier.

“I was handcuffed and held down by a guard while another guard pointed a gun to my head,” Mr. Whelan told the court.

In his previous court appearance, in August, he said that guards had injured him, causing him “great pain.”

Mr. Zherebenkov downplayed the recent incident, which he said had happened around two weeks ago. He said that the prison guard had been reprimanded and that half his paycheck had been docked.

“Russians are more used to this kind of lawlessness and are calm about certain things,” he said after the hearing.

Speaking about his client’s health, Mr. Zherebenkov said that Mr. Whelan had been thoroughly examined by doctors, who have offered to operate on him for a hernia, which he has refused. In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Whelan’s brother, David, said that his condition “continues to be of great concern.”

Mr. Zherebenkov, however, said Mr. Whelan’s situation could be much worse.

“Lefortovo is one of the best prisons in Moscow with one of the best libraries in Europe,” he said.

Follow Ivan Nechepurenko on Twitter: @INechepurenko.

Ivan Nechepurenko has been a reporter with the Moscow bureau since 2015, covering politics, economics, sports, and culture in Russia and the former Soviet republics. He was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia. @INechepurenko Facebook

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