Russian prosecutors on Monday called for a former US marine charged with spying to be sentenced to 18 years in prison, after a closed-door trial denounced by Washington and his family.
Paul Whelan, 50, was detained in Moscow in December 2018 for allegedly receiving state secrets, but he insists he was framed when he took a USB drive from an acquaintance thinking it contained holiday photos.
His trial, which caused tensions between Moscow and Washington and sparked speculation of a prisoner swap, concluded with closing arguments on Monday.
Whelan’s lawyer told reporters that prosecutors had requested 18 years for his client in a strict-regime penal colony, just short of the maximum 20-year sentence.
“To be honest, we are in shock,” Vladimir Zherebenkov said outside the Moscow City Court, removing his mask to speak to journalists standing at a distance.
Whelan reacted calmly to the prosecutor’s “very harsh” demand, the lawyer said. “He is behaving with dignity,” he added.
Zherebenkov said the prosecutor believed Whelan was an officer — “at least a colonel” — at the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
Whelan told the court “he did not do any spying and was not collecting any secret information,” his lawyer said.
He added that the verdict would be delivered and sentence announced on June 15.
– ‘Paucity of evidence’ –
“If the situation does not get politicised, if the sentence is determined in an objective, fair way, there should be an acquittal as the defence asked for,” Zherebenkov said.
The trial, which began in March, was held behind closed doors despite the coronavirus pandemic and diplomatic protests.
Whelan, who was head of global security at a US auto-parts supplier, said he was visiting Russia to attend a wedding at the time of his arrest.
He claimed that evidence he provided was ignored and the court was biased in favour of the prosecution and security services.
Whelan used earlier hearings to appeal to journalists and US President Donald Trump, claiming he was being mistreated, not given full translations of documents and rarely granted access to his lawyer.