Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan has been charged by Russian officials with espionage on Thursday.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Whelan on Dec. 28, alleging he was on a “spy mission” but did not provide additional details at the time, Business Insider reported Thursday.
Now Russian state media Interfax has reported that Whelan has been officially indicted for espionage.
Breaking from Russian news agency Interfax: Russia has indicted American Paul Whelan for spying, which Whelan denies https://t.co/Bos1A3Wa0V
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) January 3, 2019
Espionage carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.
“The investigation department of the Federal Security Service of Russia initiated a criminal case against a US citizen under article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” the FSB said in a statement. “The investigation is underway.”
Russian news outlet Rosbalt claimed that Whelan was “detained red-handed after receiving the media with information containing state secrets.”
The “media” in question was reportedly a flash drive containing a list of employees in a secret agency.
The FSB stormed his room at the Metropol Hotel five minutes after the transfer took place, according to Rosbalt’s source.
Rosbalt’s source attests that Whelan used various Russian sites to connect with individuals employed by Russian state agencies. He reportedly pursued Russians over the internet “tracked and selected in advance by American intelligence as individuals who might have access to classified information.”
Whelan works for the Michigan-based automotive company BorgWarner as a global security director. He has traveled to Russia numerous times for work and personal reasons.
Whelan’s family said he traveled to Russia on Dec. 22 to attend the wedding of a former Marine colleague and his Russian bride. They reject the allegations of spying.
JUST IN: Russia has formally charged American citizen Paul Whelan with espionage, Interfax News Agency reports pic.twitter.com/AZ0HFRDqKj
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) January 3, 2019
“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, told CNN.
— CNN (@CNN) January 3, 2019
Whelan used a Russian social media platform, Vkontakte (VK), which he has used for the past 13 years. He has posted to the site from various locations around the world, even posting in the Russian language.
“I’m not on Vkontakte so I’m not sure if it’s his account. I believe he does have an account. I do not believe he speaks Russian, other than enough words to get around town,” Whelan’s brother said.
Whelan was reportedly discharged from the Marine Corps in 2008 over charges of larceny.