U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was outraged by the court’s conviction in the case of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who was accused of espionage by the Russian FSS. He also demanded that the convicted person be immediately released.
“Outraged by today’s decision to convict Paul Whelan after a secret trial with classified evidence and without proper access to the process of defense witnesses,” said the head of the State Department in a statement. – The Russian authorities’ treatment of Whelan was horrifying. Russia failed to provide Whelan with a fair trial in an independent and impartial court, and during his detention put his life in danger by ignoring his longstanding health problems”.
Washington is gravely concerned that Whelan was denied his rights to a fair trial, which the Russian side was obliged to guarantee him in accordance with international obligations, the statement said.
On June 15, the Moscow City Court sentenced Whelan to 16 years in prison on charges of espionage. The convict pleaded not guilty and called his prosecution political. His trial was held in closed session since late March due to the presence of classified materials in the case.
After the verdict, U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan said that he was “angry and disappointed” with this court decision. He expressed the view that no evidence of Whelan’s guilt had been presented in court. The diplomat promised that he would continue to seek the release of the convict and would demand justice for him, not an exchange. The Ambassador also warned that the conviction would worsen bilateral relations.
Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said that the verdict was expected because his client on the day of his arrest on December 28, 2018, FSB officials said that he would be replaced by the Russian businessman Viktor Booth, convicted in the United States. According to him, the possibility of exchanging Whelan is under discussion.
Whelan, who previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps, was detained in Moscow. He has since been held in the Lefortovo detention facility.
According to the defense, he was detained upon receipt of a flash drive, which, according to the FSB, contained information that was part of the guest’s identity. Whelan claimed that he thought he would receive photos from his last trip to Russia.