Mich. man in Russian prison undergoes emergency hernia surgery

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The Novi man being held in Russia on spying charges underwent emergency hernia surgery, his brother said.

Paul Whelan, 50, who is accused of spying and on trial in Moscow, has been detained in Russia for the last 17 months. He is being held at the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.

His brother, David Whelan, said Friday Paul Whelan had emergency surgery after experiencing severe abdominal pain.

"We learned early this morning from the U.S. Embassy that Paul's health had taken a turn for the worse," David Whelan said in an email. "The prison transferred him to Sklifosovsky hospital where doctors performed an emergency hernia surgery. The surgery was successful and he will be transferred back to Lefortovo today."

Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and is on trial on charges of spying.

He said Russian authorities have refused to provide further details on his brother's condition.

It is a condition that the U.S. Embassy had highlighted last summer, saying in August that his health had taken a turn for the worst.

His family says after this surgery, Whelan's condition remains precarious. 

"We continue to be concerned for Paul's health, particularly now that, as he recuperates, he may be more susceptible to other illnesses or infections," David Whelan said. "The coronavirus is spreading through Lefortovo. Lawyers visiting the prison must now wear gowns and hoods, not just masks.

"We hope that the prison will take steps so that Paul doesn't face any other health emergencies."

A U.S. Marine veteran, Paul Whelan was director of global security for auto parts supplier BorgWarner in Auburn Hills. He was arrested in late December 2018 in a Moscow hotel room and charged with espionage, which carries up to 20 years in prison in Russia. 

Whelan denies the allegations and claims he was set up by a Federal Security Service major who owed him 100,000 rubles, about $1,400. He told reporters in Moscow that a Russian friend planted a hard drive on him without his knowing. 

Earlier this month, Russian prosecutors asked a judge to sentence Paul Whelan to 18 years in prison.

MoreRussia seeks 18 years for Michigan's Paul Whelan charged as spy


Twitter: @CharlesERamirez