23 June 2020
Jailed US national Paul Whelan will not appeal verdict in espionage case, opts to wait for prisoner exchange

Jailed US national Paul Whelan will not appeal verdict in espionage case, opts to wait for prisoner exchange

Sophia Sandurskaya / Moskva News Agency / AP

US citizen Paul Whelan, sentenced to 16 years in prison for spying against Russia earlier this month, has refused to appeal the verdict, news agency Interfax reported on Tuesday citing Whelan's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov.

"(Paul) Whelan will not appeal. He does not believe in Russian justice," Zherebenkov said.

Zherebenkov told RTVI last week that the Russian security services have long intended to exchange Whelan for Viktor Bout, an arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US, or Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted of conspiring to bring drugs into the United States.

Interfax confirmed the news through a confidential source, reporting that Russia and the United States are preparing a prisoner exchange – Whelan will apparently be exchanged for the two Russians following a presidential pardon.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that he was aware of Whelan's decision to not appeal the verdict, but refused to comment further.

"We in the Kremlin do not exchange foreign citizens for Russian citizens. Other agencies deal with this, so [there will be] no comment, " he said.

Paul Whelan, a 50-year-old American citizen who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained at a Moscow hotel by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in December 2018. Investigators said that he was caught in possession of a flash drive which allegedly contained classified data, and claimed that he was involved in an intelligence operation.

Whelan was a security official at a US auto-parts supplier at the time of his arrest. His relatives have said that he traveled to Russia to attend a wedding.

Whelan was found guilty of espionage by the Moscow City Court on June 15 and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum security prison. Whelan maintained his innocence throughout the trial and called the case an "FSB provocation". US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan called the verdict a "mockery of justice," adding that it would not have "a good impact" on relations between Moscow and Washington. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the US House of Representatives have both called on Russia to release Whelan.

Bout was convicted on November 2, 2011 by a jury in a Manhattan federal court. He was found guilty of conspiracy to kill US citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Yaroshenko, a pilot, was arrested in Liberia in 2010 for drug trafficking, then extradited to the United States, where he was convicted in April 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.