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British 'spy' accused of receiving USB stick with 'state secrets,' lawyer says

Published by Yahoo on Wed, 23 Jan 2019


Investigators have accused a British citizen held on espionage charges in Russia of receiving a USB stick that contained state secrets, his lawyer has said. Paul Whelan, 48, believed the USB stick had photographs and other information about a church he had visited, lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said. FSB security agents swooped in and seized him before he could see what was on the flash drive, he added. Russian media previously claimed he was grabbedat the Metropole Hotel near the Kremlin while receiving a USB stick with a list of employees of a state agency. In the first public appearance since he was detained on December 28, Moscow city court refused an appeal to grant bail to Mr Whelan, leaving him pre-trial confinement in Lefortovo jail until at least the end of February. He faces 10 to 20 years in prison. Mr Whelan, head of security for a Michigan auto parts company who holds American, British, Canadian and Irish passports, appeared calm and well-fed. Dressed in a blue shirt, dark trousers and rimless eyeglasses, the former Marine and police officer declined to answer shouted questions, instead whispering with his lawyers through an opening in the thick glass defendant's cage. A source told The Telegraph last week that Mr Whelan is accused of gathering information about 'classified military structures'. During the hearing, which was closed until the judge returned with a decision, Mr Whelan 'refuted in detail the prosecution's arguments,' Mr Zherebenkov said. 'He didn't think these were state secrets, as he did indeed say, 'I'm a friend of Russia,'' the lawyer said. 'He has a lot of acquaintances here. For him all these meetings, all these contacts were ordinary and connected with the culture of the country, nothing more.' The defence had offered a bond of up to 30 million roubles (350,000) for his release. Lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov speaks to Mr Whelan in the defendant's cage Credit: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters Russian police have often been accused of faking evidence, and in September, two officers in Izhevsk were given prison sentences for planting a pistol and personal items from a supposed victim on an innocent man. Mr Whelan was detained by the powerful FSB, however, in a much more high-profile bust. Former CIA officers have said the United States wouldn't send an agent to Russia without diplomatic cover. Although Mr Whelan 'feels good,' he has an illness that requires medical attention, and Mr Zherebenkov said he had agreed with investigators to have a doctor visit him with an interpreter, as he doesn't speak good Russian. He is reportedly suffering from a hernia as well as a shoulder problem. Prison monitors have said his cell is better than normal, with good heating, a television and a refrigerator. Vladimir Putin's spokesman denied that Mr Whelan had been detained as a 'pawn in a diplomatic game,' but some including US officials have disputed this. There has been speculation Moscow could seek to swap him for a Russian prisoner in the United States. Mr Whelan's twin brother previously told The Telegraph that the family had doubts about the appointment ofMr Zherebenkov to represent him. While the lawyer has successfully defended well-known clients like former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, he is known to have close relationships with state investigators after working as one himself for two decades. Mr Zherebenkov speaks outside Moscow city court on Tuesday Credit: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters Mr Whelan came to Russia in December for a friend's wedding and showed other guests around the Kremlin grounds, relatives have said. Friends contacted the embassy when he failed to appear at the wedding. At least 20 friends on his page on a Russian social network had completed military education or service, while others worked in IT. His twin brother previously told The Telegraph that Mr Whelan had always enjoyed meeting foreign military and law enforcement personnel during his extensive travels. Mr Whelan first visited Russia while on leave after serving in Iraq in 2007, a trip he described afterward as a chance to 'travel throughout the world wherever we want to go and experience the diversity of culture'. He came to Russia on several other occasions and, according to his lawyer, had in May visited Sergiyev Posad, a city near Moscow famous for its ancient monastery complex. He has also reportedly been to the imperial capital of St Petersburg as well as Volgograd, which is known for its Second World War history. Mr Whelan joined the US Marine Corps reserves in 1994 but was court-martialled over larceny allegations and discharged for bad conduct in 2008. He was employed at the temporary staffing firm Kelly Services, which operates in countries including Russia, as senior manager of global security and investigations. Most recently he was employed at auto parts supplier BorgWarner, which has said he wasn't in Russia for work. He also did stints in law enforcement and at one point started an online gun-selling business.
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