- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2019

Relatives of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine jailed in Moscow, rejected Thursday a top Russian official’s allegation that he threatened a prison guard with an electric drill press.

David Whelan, the detainee’s twin brother, responded after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the claim during a recent press conference held at the U.S. State Department.

“As Paul’s lawyer says, it’s clearly false. We can only assume that the FSB source for this information couldn’t come up with a more creative fiction,” he said on behalf of the Whelan family in an email, using an acronym for Russia’s Federal Security Service, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

“Ongoing attempts to get Paul to plead guilty and outlandish stories about drills only show how desperate the FSB is becoming in the face of this defiance,” he added.

Mr. Whelan, the jailed American, was arrested in Moscow late last December and has been accused of espionage and jailed ever since. He has adamantly denied the allegations.

Speaking after meeting Tuesday with Mr. Lavrov in D.C., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he discussed the former Marine and added that “bringing home our citizens abroad as soon as possible is one of President Trump’s highest priorities.”

Mr. Lavrov subsequently told reporters that the alleged spy “threatens the staff of the Federal Penitentiary Service to make holes in their heads with a drill, and makes other arrogant statements,” according to an English translation released by the Russian government.

The Russian Foreign Minister has since shared a photo on social media of an electric drill press used for hole-punching paper that it says is similar to one referenced by Mr. Lavrov. Vladimir Zherebenkov, an attorney representing the American, said on Twitter in Russian that it “is not physically possible” to use that drill on a person’s head.

“We were pleased to see that Secretary Pompeo indicated that Paul had been brought up during the meeting,” reacted David Whelan. “Unfortunately, Secretary Pompeo did not defend Paul. There was no attempt to rebut these allegations during the press conference, even though State Department staff at the Embassy had done so the previous week.

“It is frustrating to see the Russian government able to make false statements about our brother … and have no-one in the American government display the courage to defend the truth,” he added.

The State Department referred to Mr. Pompeo’s previous remarks when reached for comment.

Rebecca Ross, a spokeswoman for the U.S Embassy in Moscow, said Wednesday on Twitter that Mr. Whelan requires medical assistance and that Russia should “let Paul go home and get the care he needs now.”

The State Department has previously said that Russia should either show evidence to support keeping the American in custody or to release him immediately, and the House of Representatives passed a resolution in October reiterating that request on behalf of Congress.

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