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Mich. man convicted of spying in Russia: 'I don't think I'll be here that long'

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The Novi man convicted in June of spying in Moscow told ABC News he's optimistic the Russian and American governments will work out a deal to release him from prison.

"I don't think I'll be here that long — the governments will work it out quickly," Paul Whelan said in an interview with the TV network's news division. "I think it's a bit of an embarrassment for the Russian government because they've by now figured out that they've made a mistake.

"Like I said, you know, Mr. Bean being abducted on holiday. I don't think this is a situation they want going longer than it needs to."

A Russian court sentenced the American security executive to 16 years in prison for spying. Whelan has insisted he is innocent, saying he was set up.

Paul Whelan of Novi has been imprisoned since his arrest for  alleged spying in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2018.

After his conviction, Whelan's lawyer said the one-time Marine would not appeal his sentence because his client has no faith in the Russian courts and hopes a deal could be worked out to exchange him for Russians jailed in the U.S.

More: Michigan’s Whelan won’t appeal 16-year sentence for spying in Russia

However, Whelan's family said there are no negotiations underway for such a swap, ABC News said.

Whelan, 50, was arrested in December 2018 while attending a wedding in Moscow after receiving a flash drive with “state secrets” that he says he thought contained holiday pictures. He was convicted in a closed trial.

In August, it wasn't clear where Russian authorities sent Whelan to serve his sentence. 

More: US Embassy in Moscow: No info on Paul Whelan’s whereabouts

Whelan is being kept in barracks at a former Gulag camp in Mordovia, a region about 300 miles east of Moscow, according to ABC News. The facility was originally built to hold prisoners during World War II.

He's not separated from the other inmates, most of whom are serving time for minor drug convictions, he said, although others are convicted rapists and murderers, according to the TV network's news division.

"It's pretty grim. Quite dilapidated," Whelan told ABC. "There's probably like 50 to 60 of us in the building. So we kind of live on top of each other."

Despite the camp's conditions, he said he's been treated well and gets along with the other inmates.

"They've actually been quite welcoming," he said. "Everybody works together as a team, so there is kind of a bit of a brotherhood."

He also said his fellow inmates know that he's not a spy.

"They all laughed when I got here," Whelan said. "Everybody knows that it's complete crap, and they laugh and say, 'Well, yeah, this is what the FSB (Russia's Federal Security Service) does. It's obviously political.'"

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez