Russia on Thursday put the onus on the U.S. to deny Paul Whelan, an American citizen and former Marine jailed in Moscow for nearly a year, is not a foreign spy as suspected.
“The fact of Whelan’s spying activities has been properly documented, and, remarkably, it has never been refuted by U.S. officials during our working contacts,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, said at a press briefing, state-run media reported.
Mr. Whelan, 49, has been jailed in Moscow since his arrest there on Dec. 29, 2019. Russian officials allege he was caught carrying a flash driving containing classified information and have accused him of espionage, putting him at risk of being sentenced to spend as much as 20 years locked up abroad.
A former member of the U.S. Marine Reserves, Mr. Whelan has denied being a spy and has asserted he was “set up” by a longtime acquaintance employed by Russian security services.
“This case is an absurd provocation. No evidence of crime exists,” Mr. Whelan said at a court hearing last month, adding it was “ridiculous” to claim he has ties to any U.S. intelligence agency.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly raised concerns with Moscow over the lack of evidence present in Mr. Whelan’s case, a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times.
“We continue to urge the Russian government to ensure a fair trial, including a fair and public hearing without undue delay, in accordance with its international legal obligations,” the spokesperson said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately return a request for comment.
State Department officials have previously called repeatedly on Russia to either produce evidence of Mr. Whelan’s alleged crime or release him from custody, and bipartisan members of Congress have made similar demands in resolutions currently pending in both the House and Senate.
Mr. Whelan worked as a security director for a Michigan-based automotive parts company at the time of his arrest. He was born in Canada to British parents prior to being raised near Ann Arbor, Mich., and he holds American, British, Canadian and Irish citizenship.