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American Held In Russia Is Denied Bail During First Court Appearance


An American ex-Marine accused of espionage in Russia has made his first public appearance in a court in Moscow. Paul Whelan was arrested at the end of last month by the FSB. That's Russia's Federal Security Service. A judge turned down his petition to be released on bail while he's awaiting trial. Here's more from NPR's Lucian Kim.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Russian state television showed Paul Whelan in a Moscow courtroom wearing glasses and a blue, button-down Oxford shirt. He was sitting in a glass box customary for defendants in Russian court cases. And his lawyer and an interpreter were leaning into a tiny window to talk to him. The lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.


VLADIMIR ZHEREBENKOV: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: He said the prosecution maintains that Whelan received state secrets on a digital memory stick. The lawyer insisted Whelan was expecting to get information about a church because of his interest in Russian culture. Paul Whelan holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish citizenship. His lawyer said the prosecution had not made clear which country he's alleged to have been spying for. Whelan's family says he was in Moscow to attend to fellow Marine's wedding. His brother, David Whelan, spoke with NPR at the beginning of January.


DAVID WHELAN: Russia is just one of many places that he has traveled to over the last 20 or 30 years. He's just always enjoyed travel. So I think Russia just happened to be a place that he was at the time.

KIM: American Ambassador Jon Huntsman visited Paul Whelan in a Moscow jail at the beginning of the year, and U.S. diplomats have sought further access to him. But an embassy spokeswoman told Russian reporters that a planned visit last Thursday had been abruptly canceled by the FSB. Whelan's detention has raised speculation that he may be traded for a Russian national, Maria Butina, who is in U.S. custody and has pleaded guilty to working as an unregistered Russian government agent.


SERGEI LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that was not a possibility. He said Russia doesn't do those kind of things and that Whelan was caught, in his words, red handed. Whelan maintains his innocence and is appealing the court's decision not to release him on bail. If convicted of espionage, Whelan could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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