Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran, continues to be under arrest by the Russian government, charged with espionage. The Russians have refused to entertain the prospect of a prisoner swap. Emerging details surrounding this case have muddled the picture. Whelan has a remarkable four citizenships: British, Canadian, Irish, and U.S. This wasn’t his first visit to the Russian capital. According to his brother, David Whelan, Paul Whelan had visited Moscow multiple times before his arrest, beginning when he was still in the Marine Corps. He also had a rudimentary grasp of the Russian language. Since 2017, Whelan has been working as the director of global security for BorgWarner, an automotive industry components and parts supplier.
Whelan served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve from 1994 to 2008. His military occupational specialty was an administrative clerk (0151) and he reached the rank of staff sergeant. He completed two deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Aside from the accusations of espionage, Whelan appears to have a shady history. According to records obtained by The Washington Post, in 2006, the Marine veteran was accused of trying to steal more than $10,000 from the U.S. government, bouncing checks worth almost $6,000. Furthermore, Whelan was found to be using the social security number of another Marine to complete an online training program the USMC uses to help determine the promotion of its Marines. Consequently, a military court-martial found Whelan guilty and he received a dishonorable discharge for bad conduct.
“He seemed as well as can be expected in a Russian jail. He was missing a lot of personal necessities, like toilet paper, that aren’t provided,” said Whelan’s brother.
On behalf of the U.S. government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration has “made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges and come to understand what it is he’s been accused of.”
Although his family is vying for the support of the U.S. government, Whelan is also reaching out to other nations. The British Foreign Ministry has requested consular access to Whelan after receiving a request for help by the Marine veteran.
The Russian government has declined to talk about a prisoner exchange. “I see no reasons to raise this issue in [the] context of exchanges. We should undergo all the procedures needed in this situation,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Currently, the U.S. government holds a number of Russian nationals for spying or meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections.
On December 28th, Whelan was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as he prepared to attend the wedding of a fellow U.S. Marine. If found guilty by the Russians, Whelan may face up to 20 years behind bars.