U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on Wednesday visited Paul Whelan, the American detained in Moscow on espionage charges, according to the State Department.
“Ambassador Huntsman visited Mr. Paul Whelan today in the Lefortovo Detention Facility,” a State Department spokesperson told The Hill. “Ambassador Huntsman expressed his support for Mr. Whelan and offered the Embassy’s assistance.”
Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHillicon Valley — TikTok, Snapchat seek to distance themselves from Facebook State: US 'strongly opposes' Israeli settlement expansion Lawmakers praise upcoming establishment of cyber bureau at State MORE told reporters earlier Wednesday that U.S. consular officials expected to make contact with Whelan, whose arrest became public early this week.
“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 while on an official trip to Brazil.
Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, revealed on Monday that Whelan had been apprehended on Dec. 28 on charges of espionage. Whelan, a former Marine who now works as a security executive for automotive parts maker BorgWarner in Michigan, was traveling in Russia for a friend’s wedding, according to his relatives. His family has rejected Russia’s accusations that Whelan was on a “spy mission.”
“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,” his brother, David Whelan, told the Detroit Free Press earlier this week.
The State Department said Huntsman spoke to Whelan’s family by telephone after meeting with him Wednesday. The department declined to provide further details on the matter “due to privacy considerations for Mr. Whelan and his family.”
Whelan’s relatives said they learned of his arrest through media reports on Monday. His employer, BorgWarner, also said it has been in contact with relevant U.S. authorities to assist him and the government.
Whelan’s detention comes less than a month after Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a Russian agent in federal court in Washington, D.C. Some have speculated that Whelan’s arrest could represent Moscow’s effort to retaliate against the United States.