Spy row: US ambassador visits Paul Whelan

Moscow, Jan 3: The US ambassador in Russia, Jon Huntsman, has visited Paul Whelan, the ex-marine detained on suspicion of spying, the US state department said.

The US wanted to know more about the charges facing Mr Whelan, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“If the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return”, he further said.

According to the Russian Government, Mr Whelan was “caught spying” in Moscow, but his family says he was in Russia to attend a wedding and is innocent.

He was arrested in Moscow on 28 December.

Paul Whelan has been charged with espionage and, if found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in jail.

Russia’s FSB state security agency has given few details, saying only that he was detained “during an act of espionage”, the BBC reported.

Mr Whelan is a 48-year-old former Marine who was born in Canada but moved to the US . He is currently director of global security for Michigan-based automotive components supplier BorgWarner.

Paul Whelan joined the Marine Reserves in 1994 and rose to the rank of staff sergeant in 2004. He served in Iraq for several months in 2004 and 2006.

“I can’t imagine how someone with a law enforcement background who is also a former US Marine, and who is now working in corporate security and is also aware of the risks of travel, would have broken any law let alone the law related to espionage,” his brother David Whelan said.

The two countries have been spying on each other for decades but very few US citizens have been arrested for espionage on Russian territory.

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