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US Marine vet Whelan’s lawyer says client won’t appeal sentence, hopes for US-Russia prisoner swap

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.

A lawyer for the former U.S. Marine convicted of espionage in Russia last week says his client will not appeal the decision because he doesn’t trust the country’s judicial system.

The Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Zherebenkov as saying on June 23 that Whelan hopes Washington and Moscow will instead agree on an exchange of prisoners.

“Today, we met [Whelan] in the detention facility and after a discussion it was decided not to appeal the verdict because he doesn’t believe in Russian justice,” Zherebenkov was quoted as saying.

“He hopes that he will be swapped in the near future for Russians who have been convicted in the United States,” he added.

News reports have said Russian and U.S. officials are negotiating a possible swap of Whelan for two Russians — Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko — who are serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons.

The Moscow City Court announced the conviction and handed Whelan a 16-year prison sentence on June 15 after a trial that was held behind closed doors because the evidence included classified materials and because of measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The United States has called the proceedings a “mockery of justice” and demanded Whelan’s immediate release.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said he was deeply disappointed by the verdict and sentence against Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenships, and expressed “serious reservations about the legal process.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has rejected “claims about the unfairness and excessive harshness” of the sentence.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 23 that the Kremlin had noted Whelan’s decision not to appeal his conviction but declined to comment further.

The 50-year-old former U.S. Marine was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and went on trial in March of this year. He had denied all charges.

Russian prosecutors claimed that a flash drive found in Whelan’s possession contained classified information.

Whelan says he was framed when he took the drive from an acquaintance, thinking it contained holiday photos. He has also accused his prison guards of mistreatment.

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.

Before the verdict, U.S. officials had urged Moscow to release Whelan following their criticism of Russian authorities for their “shameful treatment” of him.