A court in Russia has sentenced an ex-US Marine and businessman to 16 years in prison with hard labour for spying and stealing state secrets.
Paul Whelan was arrested in a hotel room while preparing for a wedding 17 months ago by Russian secret service agents. A USB flash drive was recovered from him which security officers say contained state secrets.
The ex- US Marine denied the charge saying he was in his hotel room when an old friend turned up unexpectedly. It was several moments after the entry of this friend that Russian security agents turned up and arrested him for receiving state secrets.
The Moscow City Court found him guilty of receiving classified information and thereafter sentenced him sparking a possible foreign relations row between Russia and four western nations.
The US citizen who also happens to be a citizen of the UK, Canada and Ireland denounced the trial which was carried out in closed doors as a sham before the sentence was handed down by the judge.
Responding to the development, the US ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan condemned the trial as unfair and lacking transparency saying the sentencing would affect relations between Washington and Moscow.
“This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms,” the US embassy said.
Whelan’s family accused the Russian court of injustice in a statement condemning the sentencing.
“The court’s decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process. We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities,” the statement said.
The family said the lawyers are likely to lodge a formal appeal within the next two weeks and called on the US government to activate steps to bring the former marine back home.