Kremlin denies using 'spy' Paul Whelan to secure release of Maria Butina

Remigio Civitarese
Gennaio 12, 2019

"Russia never uses people as pawns in a diplomatic game", the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Wednesday, the Kremlin's first comments on the case of Paul Whelan, who is now in a Moscow prison and accused of espionage by Russia's domestic intelligence agency.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine, officially employed as director of global security for a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, was detained in Moscow on December 28, with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) filing a criminal case against him over allegations of espionage, he faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Last week, however, it emerged that he also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship.

Russia's Federal Security Service or FSB said it detained Whelan in his hotel room on December 28, accusing him of conducting "spying activity" but has provided no more details on the allegations against him.

His family has told CBS News they first learned of his detention through media reports. USA intelligence and State Department sources have told CBS News they're confident Whelan is not a spy.

Since 2017, Whelan has worked for a Michigan-based auto parts company called BorgWarner, most recently as director of global security.

Whelan's family has urged Congress to take action and ensure his release. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the United States embassy in Moscow had been notified about Whelan's detention in accordance with the bilateral consular convention. So far, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman and his staff are the only Westerners who have had contact with the ex-marine. According to family, he was in Russian Federation for a wedding and is a regular world traveler.

The well-connected news site Rosbalt claimed that he was arrested in the Metropole hotel near the Kremlin after receiving a USB stick with a list of employees of a state agency.

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