Paul Whelan marks 500 days in Moscow prison

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Monday marked 500 days that Michigan's Paul Whelan has been locked up in a Moscow prison and denied any calls home to his family in the United States, officials and family members said. 

"Entrapped by a friend in Russian law enforcement, Paul has been isolated from his friends and family for more than 16 months while he is subjected to an unjust Russian legal system," Whelan's twin brother David said in a Monday email update. 

Whelan continues to be kept from making calls, despite an April 20 order from a Russian court allowing him two phone calls a month, according to the email update.

"There's no indication Paul has been allowed even one call. 16 months, not one call home," U.S. Embassy in Russia spokeswoman Rebecca Ross tweeted. 

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who was arrested in Moscow at the end of last year, right, looks through a cage's glass as his lawyers talk to each other in a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

"Ambassador Sullivan has repeatedly called for #PaulWhelan's release. There is no evidence. There was no crime. Let Paul go home — let him see his mother and wish her a Happy Mothers' Day in person. Enough is enough." 

Whelan, 50, of Novi 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. 

The former U.S. Marine was director of global security for auto parts supplier BorgWarner in Auburn Hills.

He has denied the charges and urged President Donald Trump to intervene. He told reporters in Moscow that a Russian friend planted a hard drive on him without his knowing. 

U.S. lawmakers and diplomats have urged Russia to produce credible evidence against Whelan or release him from custody. 

His trial is expected to continue Wednesday when the defense presents its case, David Whelan said. 

"Paul has requested documents from us, through his lawyers, to aid in his defense against the unfounded charges," David said. 

But just as his brother was barred fro m receiving investigative documents translated into English, he will be unable to present evidence in court because he cannot provide it in Russian, as the Russian legal system won't provide for translation of records into the Russian language, David said.

"The Russian authorities detain you and then expect you to pay for the privilege," he said. 

"It is too much to hope that Judge Andrei Suvorov's three-judge panel or the prosecutor in Paul's case will dismiss the charges. That isn't how the Russian legal system works.," David added.

"For Paul's sake, we hope the trial is completed quickly so that we can proceed to the next act of this unreal theater."

Michigan lawmakers have said they expect Whelan will be automatically convicted under Russia's system, which involves no due process. That verdict would allow diplomats to begin discussions about potentially trading Whelan for a convicted Russian national held in U.S. prison.

David Whelan noted that Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, posted an open letter on Facebook calling for Russians in U.S. prisons to be freed due to the risk of COVID-19 in high-density facilities. 

"We would urge the Russian government to heed their own advice. If Paul were at home in Michigan, he would be in far less peril than he is in Russia," David said.

"If there were ever an opportunity of showing mercy and goodwill, letting people hazard their lives in their homes, it is now."