Paul Whelan, former Marine jailed in Moscow, calls espionage case retaliation for U.S. sanctions

May 7, 2019

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine jailed in Moscow, has described the Russian espionage case against him as retaliation for U.S. sanctions, a report said Tuesday.

Mr. Whelan, 49, relayed messages from prison suggesting his arrest was related to sanctions imposed on Russia for annexing Crimea in 2014, Foreign Policy reported.

In letters sent by his legal team, Mr. Whelan also implied that he was jailed because of his job at BorgWarner, a Michigan-based auto parts manufacturer where he worked as a global security director at the time of his arrest.

“This is 100% work related. Ask BW for support. Sanction retaliation,” Mr. Whelan said in a message received by his relatives on March 26, Foreign Policy reported.

″[C]ompany BW does business with here, recently had to reorganize due to sanctions. A person was excluded from that company, get name and give that to [U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon] Huntsman,” said Mr. Whelan, according to the report.

Mr. Whelan’s brother subsequently asked a U.S. diplomat who planned to visit his sibling in prison to discuss the letter to determine whether it was legitimate, the report said.

In a handwritten response relayed by Mr. Whelan’s lawyers on April 10, he said that his information “came from people here. Sanctioned friends with locals, who look for big fish and now know their mistake,” the report said.

Neither BorgWarner nor the Russian Embassy in D.C. immediately returned requests for comment.

Mr. Whelan was arrested in December at a Moscow hotel and has been jailed ever since at nearby Lefortovo Prison. Russian officials attest he was caught “red handed” with a USB drive containing classified intelligence and risks a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment if convicted of espionage.

Mr. Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador, said last month that Russian officials have failed so far to support their claim.

“If there is no evidence, and the Russians have not shown that there is any evidence so far, then let’s move on,” Mr. Huntsman said. “Let’s move on and quit playing these games.”

Russia annexed Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea, from Ukraine in early 2014, prompting the U.S. and allies to impose sanctions in the form of travel and financial restrictions.

Various sanctions imposed on Russia have cost the country around $6.3 billion as of late 2018, state-media reported previously.