This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A court in Russia has confirmed the refusal of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mordovia to consider a request by former U.S. marine Paul Whelan to serve out in his home country the rest of his prison term on espionage charges that he says are fake.
The appeals court in the city of Nizhny Novgorod handed down its decision on November 8, saying it was leaving the Mordovian Supreme Court decision “unchanged.”
Whelan’s lawyers said immediately after the decision was announced that they would appeal the ruling, calling it a move to “evade the implementation of justice” for the American.
In September, Mordovia’s Supreme Court sent Whelan’s request back to the Justice Ministry “to obtain the necessary information in accordance with clauses of an international agreement of the Russian Federation, as well as for the preliminary coordination [of the issue] with a competent organ of the United States.”
The defense team initially asked the Moscow City Court to consider Whelan’s request to be handed over to the United States to finish serving his sentence there. But the court refused to review the matter claiming jurisdictional issues and forwarded it to Mordovia, where Whelan is currently incarcerated.
Mordovia, a region located about 350 kilometers east of Moscow, is historically known as the location of Russia’s toughest prisons, including Soviet-era labor camps for political prisoners.
Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in May 2020 following a trial that was condemned by the United States as a “mockery of justice.”
A holder of U.S., Canadian, British, and Irish passports, Whelan has rejected the espionage charges and has accused his prison guards of mistreatment.
The United States has also criticized Russian authorities for their “shameful treatment” of Whelan.
Whelan was head of global security at a U.S. auto-parts supplier when he was arrested. He and his relatives insist he was in Russia to attend a wedding.
He is one of several Americans to face trial in Russia in recent years on charges that their families, supporters, and in some cases the U.S. government, have said are trumped up.
Another former U.S. Marine, Trevor Reed, is serving a nine-year prison term in Mordovia as well. He was sentenced in July 2020 on charges of assaulting two Russian police officers.
The U.S. government and Reed deny the allegations and questioned the fairness of his judicial proceedings.
Reports have surfaced several times of a possible swap involving Whelan, Reed, and two Russians — arms dealer Viktor Bout and drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko — who are serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons.
Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said on November 8 that there are no talks regarding the possible swap at the moment, and that to his knowledge one of the conditions of such talks could be the demand by the Russian side to recognize Whelan’s conviction as legal.