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Who is Paul Whelan, the former U.S. marine held in Russia?



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The release Brittney GrinerThe imprisoned American basketball star in Russia, who was exchanged Thursday with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, has raised questions about the case of another American prisoner, Paul Whelan.

US officials say they are still working to secure the release of the former Marine, who was arrested in Moscow in 2019but announced that he was not participating in the prisoner exchange talks on Thursday.

Paul Whelan, 52, is a Marine who became the company’s chief security officer. accused of espionage and is serving a 16-year sentence in a prison in Russia.

He is a citizen of four countries — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. He received a bad behavior from the Marines in 2008, according to military records. He later became director of corporate security at BorgWarner, an auto parts supplier based in Michigan.

In June 2020, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in a Russian prison for espionage, in a trial he said was politically motivated and increased tensions between the United States and the United States. Russia.

His lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said his client had accidentally received a flash drive containing “state secrets” while traveling to Russia for a wedding in 2018. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Whelan was “caught red-handed”.

Whelan, arrested on December 28, 2018, at a Moscow hotel, said he thought the flash drive he received from an acquaintance contained vacation photos. Whelan, his family and the US government have repeatedly stated that the allegations are baseless and that he was framed.

On the day the verdict was announced, Whelan said he thought it was a foregone conclusion, and shouted from within the glassed area of ​​the courtroom that Russia “feels powerless in the world, because So they’re taking political hostages.”

After the news of Griner’s release on Thursday, US officials lamented that Whelan’s release could not be guaranteed, but said they are continuing their efforts.

President Biden said on Thursday that his administration “has not forgotten Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for many years.”

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith for Paul’s release. I guarantee that. I tell that to my family,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

Meanwhile, Whelan said on Thursday that he “very disappointing” that the government did nothing more to secure his release, “especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest approaches. I was arrested for a crime that never happened,” he said in a statement phone interview with CNN from the remote penal colony of Russia, where he is being held. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

Following the announcement of Griner’s release, Whelan’s Russian lawyers also lamented that their client was not included in the swap. Over the summer, reports indicated that the US government was trying to negotiate the release of both Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout.

“There has been a lot of speculation about this and there has been hope [that] Paul and his family were hoping he would eventually return home to his aging parents,” his lawyer Olga Karlova told The Post.

“We don’t know exactly why [he hasn’t been added]maybe because he was too valuable to trade and they decided to keep him longer,” she added.

A national security official said on Thursday that Whelan was never really an option for the Russians in negotiations over Griner’s release, and due to the nature of the espionage charges against him. In return for him, the Russians treated Whelan “different”.

“This is not a situation where we have a choice about which Americans to bring home. It’s a choice between bringing an American, Brittney Griner, or not bringing it home,” the official said on condition of anonymity on a call with reporters.

Officials say the conversation about Whelan’s release remains open.

This is the second time Whelan has been omitted in the prisoner exchange between Moscow and Washington. This early year, American Trevor Reed, former Marine captured in 2019, exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to 20 years in prison in the US.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.

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