Russia extends detention of US citizen accused of spying: report

A Russian court extended the detention of a U.S. citizen being held on espionage charges by three months Friday, Reuters cited the Russian news agency RIA as reporting.

Former Marine Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was arrested in December and charged with spying. He could face up to 20 years behind bars if found guilty.

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The Moscow court ordered Whelan to be held until May in pretrial detention, extending an earlier ruling would have kept him in custody until the end of this month.

Whelan has denied the charges, which were officially filed last month. He had been traveling to Russia to attend a wedding.

“I just can’t see him breaking laws in America, let alone going to a country that might be more difficult to navigate if he broke the law, and certainly not breaking a law of espionage,” Whelan’s brother David David told the Detroit Free Press last month.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has visited Paul Whelan and been in contact with his family. Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast Trump defense chief: US may send more troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions Pompeo slams 'unconscionable' release of 'American Taliban' MORE has demanded more information about Whelan’s arrest and detention from Russia.

“We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he’s been accused of, and if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return,” Pompeo said last month.

Whelan's arrest came weeks after alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to acting as a foreign agent for Russia in the United States, fueling speculation that the Kremlin detained Whelan in an act of retaliation. Russia has denied knowledge of Butina or her efforts.