Russia asks for 18-year sentence for American accused of spying

Russia asks for 18-year sentence for American accused of spying
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Russian prosecutors on Monday requested an 18-year sentence in a maximum security prison for former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was accused of spying, his lawyer told reporters. 

Whelan, a U.S. national with British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in December 2018 in Russia but has claimed he was set up and pleaded not guilty, Reuters reported,

“The prosecution has made a very harsh demand, it’s absolutely unjustified and groundless. To be honest, we’re in shock,” Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told reporters.

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Whelan’s trial began on March 23 and is closed to the public because the content reportedly includes classified information, according to Reuters. The verdict is expected to be announced June 15. 

Russian prosecutors allege Whelan is at least a ranking U.S. military intelligence colonel, who was caught trying to obtain secrets. Zherebenkov has said his client was trying to receive photographs of a trip he and an acquaintance had been on.

U.S. officials have challenged the legitimacy of the accusations, saying Russian authorities are using Whelan as a political bargaining tool.

U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan called the trial a “mockery of justice.”

“There is no legitimacy to a procedure that is hidden behind closed doors. It is not transparent, it is not fair, and it is not impartial,” he said, according to Reuters.

Whelan has reportedly asserted at his hearings that he is not being treated well in captivity and has been denied medical service, but Russian officials say he is lying about his health problems.

Whelan was previously discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps over poor conduct concerns.