Russia dismisses reports of prisoner swap for Novi man
Moscow – Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday dismissed suggestions that an American arrested in Moscow on suspicion of spying could be used in a prisoner swap for a Russian held in the United States.
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Moscow last month on suspicion of espionage. Whelan’s arrest raised speculation that he could be swapped for one of the Russians held in the U.S. such as gun rights activist Maria Butina, who has pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent in the U.S.
But Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing that Whelan is accused of espionage and will face trial.
“At the current stage, there is no talk about any sort of exchange,” she said, dismissing a possible swap as “speculations and fakes.”
Zakharova also said Russia would allow diplomats from Britain, Ireland and Canada as well as the U.S. to visit Whelan, who holds four citizenships.
Yevgeny Yenikeyev, a prisoner rights activist, told the Interfax news agency he visited Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, where Whelan is being held. He said Whelan’s cell was recently repaired and has hot water, a toilet and a TV.
But Yenikeyev said prison officials didn’t let him or other activists see or talk to Whelan, saying that authorities said he doesn’t speak Russian and they could not monitor a conversation in English. He said the activists will try to visit Whelan again.
The defense lawyer for Whelan said a week ago that he is trying to get Whelan, a 48-year-old corporate security director from Auburn Hills-based Borg Warner, released from the Moscow prison. The court would have 15 days after Russia’s winter holidays ended Jan. 9 to make a decision on bail.
In Russia, a spying conviction carries a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, has said in earlier interviews that he had no idea why his brother was targeted by the Russian security services. Paul Whelan was in Moscow to help plan the wedding of another former Marine because he had been to Russia several times before, the brother said.