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US Marine vet Paul Whelan, accused of spying in Russia, undergoes hernia surgery

Then-Staff Sgt. Paul N. Whelan, adjutant, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), pictured before the Kremlin in 2007. (Cpl. James B. Hoke/U.S. Marine Corps)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who is on trial in Russia on an espionage charge, has undergone emergency hernia surgery.

Whelan’s family said in a statement on May 29 that the U.S. Embassy had informed them earlier in the day that Whelan’s health had deteriorated and he was taken for surgery at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky Emergency Medical Center.

“We learned early this morning from the U.S. Embassy that Paul’s health had taken a turn for the worse,” the statement said.

“The surgery was successful and he will be transferred back to Lefortovo today. There are no additional details as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has refused to answer any questions from the U.S. Embassy about Paul’s condition without a diplomatic note. We continue to be concerned for Paul’s health, particularly now that, as he recuperates, he may be more susceptible to other illnesses or infections. The coronavirus is spreading through Lefortovo. Lawyers visiting the prison must now wear gowns and hoods, not just masks. We hope that the prison will take steps so that Paul doesn’t face any other health emergencies.”

On May 25, a prosecutor at Whelan’s trial asked a Moscow court to find him guilty of espionage — a charge Whelan and U.S. officials vehemently deny — and sentence him to 18 years in prison.

The 50-year-old Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenships, has repeatedly said that he is not guilty.

Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and in March this year went on trial, which was held in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and diplomatic protests.

Prosecutors claim that a flash disc found in Whelan’s possession contained classified information.

Whelan says he was framed when he took a USB drive from an acquaintance thinking it contained holiday photos and that the allegations of spying against him are politically motivated. He has also accused his prison guards of mistreatment.

The trial was held behind closed doors because the evidence includes classified materials, as well as because of measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Whelan was head of global security at a U.S. auto-parts supplier at the time of his arrest. He and his relatives insist he visited Russia to attend a wedding.

U.S. officials have urged Moscow to release Whelan and have criticized Russian authorities for their “shameful treatment” of him.