A Russian court has sentenced former US Marine Paul Whelan to 16 years hard labor. He was found guilty of spying charges.
Whelan has UK citizenship, U.S., Canadian and Irish passports. He has been in custody in Russia since he was arrested in a Moscow hotel room on December 28th, 2018.
Police said they caught him “red-handed” with a computer memory stick containing a list of secret Russian agents.
The 50-year-old pleaded not guilty. He claims that he was set up by a sting operation and was given the USB drive by someone else. He thought the USB only contained holiday photos.
However, on Monday at Moscow City Court, he was convicted of espionage. His sentence of 16 years will be carried out in a maximum-security prison.
The sentence was read out in Russian, with Whelan unable to understand until his lawyer translated it for him.
His brother David vowed to appeal the verdict, asking the US government to “immediately take steps to bring him home”.
“The court’s decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process. We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities.”
US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan described the case against Whelan as a “mockery of justice”.
He said he was “crestfallen” and “outraged” by the judge’s decision, adding: “An American citizen has been sentenced to a term of 16 years for a crime for which we have not seen evidence.”
Politics As Usual
US officials have branded the case as a “significant obstacle” to improving their relations with Russia. The U.S. has consistently claimed there is no evidence against Whelan, calling his trial “unfair” and “opaque”.
Most familiar with US-Russia relations say that Whelan’s 16-year sentence is “no great surprise.”
“The fact it was not the 18 years the prosecution requested is hardly a concession,” said Sky News’s Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay.
“The process was held entirely behind closed doors. Essentially a secret trial in which he and all four ambassadors whose citizenship he holds say no evidence of his guilt has been presented. Whelan has always maintained the trial was a sham and piece of political theatre.”
“The fact he did not even have the sentence translated for him is an indication of just how dispensable he as an individual is in the game of chess Russia plays against the West. As the US ambassador John Sullivan just said ‘if it can happen to Paul, it can happen to anyone’.”
With President Trump “befriending Russian President Vladimir Putin over the years, one has to ask, how is this happening?