Paul Whelan, of Michigan, was arrested in a hotel room in the Russian capital in late December and accused of ‘unspecified spying activity’ amid claims he was caught with a ‘USB stick containing names of Russian agents’.
Defense attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov has said Whelan was given the memory stick by a Russian acquaintance and believed that it contained holiday photographs – not the ‘state secrets’ that Russian intelligence officials say was on it.
The Moscow City Court on Thursday upheld the ruling that ordered keeping Whelan in jail at least until the end of May.
Zherebenkov said that the allegations of Whelan spying ‘in the interests of the US’ seem to be based largely on the fact that he’d travelled to Russia on an American passport. Whelan also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship.
During his appeal hearing on Thursday, Whelan appeared agitated as he stood inside a glass cage guarded by a masked officer.
At one point during the hearing for his alleged espionage, reporters shouted questions at Whelan, who hasn’t been seen in public since his last court appearance in January.
One journalist asked the 49-year-old Michigan native if he was being framed.
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‘This is a kangaroo court,’ he told reporters after the judge rejected his appeal and sent him back to the notorious Lefortovo jail, a former KGB prison in Moscow.
Whelan is seen in court on Thursday as a judge upheld an earlier ruling to keep him in a Moscow jail for three more months as he faces espionage charges
Whelan, head of global security for a US car parts firm, has been living a tourist‘s nightmare since he traveled to Moscow in December to attend the wedding of a fellow Marine veteran, according to his twin brother David.
Zherebenkov said his client told him he met up with an unidentified friend in a unit inside the Hotel Metropol on December 28 to receive what Whelan thought was a flash drive containing pictures of tourist destinations.
The Hill reports US officials have speculated Whelan’s arrest was the Kremlin’s payback for the arrest and conviction of Russian foreign agent Maria Butina, a supposed gun rights activist who has pleaded guilty to trying to infiltrate the US conservative movement.
‘Paul claims that and the investigation for now cannot refute that. In the words of Paul, it is a fantasy of the FSB.
Whelan is being detained in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, a former KGB jail known for housing accused spies, political dissidents and high-profile suspects.
If convicted of spying, Whelan could face up to 20 years in prison.
The ex-marine is seen above in a courtroom cage in Moscow in February after an initial ruling regarding the extension of his detention
President Donald Trump has mentioned that the White House is keeping an eye on Whelan’s case, but the Commander and Chief still hasn’t made a formal comment on the matter. Neither has the US State Department.
Foreign policy analysts have theorized Russia may want to negotiate a prisoner exchange for Whelan, but the Kremlin has denied this, saying the alleged espionage case against him is not politically motivated.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have expressed growing concern.
US Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who serves as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined a group of US Senators last week in demanding Russia release Whelan immediately, saying the foreign country’s ongoing treatment of the 48-year-old violates international law.
Whelan was kicked out of the marines about 10 years ago for attempted larceny and dereliction of duty.