Mon, Jan 07, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Too early to talk swap of suspected US spy: Russia

AP, MOSCOW

Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov on Saturday brushed off suggestions that an American being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying could be exchanged for a Russian citizen.

However, the brother of Paul Whelan told reporters that he cannot help but question whether the events are indeed connected.

“You look at what’s going on and you wonder if this is just a large game of pieces being moved around,” David Whelan said via Skype from Newmarket, Ontario. “You start to wonder if all of these things are connected. But at the same time, they could just be arbitrary events.”

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who also holds Canadian, British and Irish citizenship, was detained in Moscow late last month.

His arrest has led to speculation that Russia could be using him to bargain for a Russian who pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent in the US.

Discussing a possible swap involving Whelan and Maria Butina would be premature, because Whelan has not been formally charged, Ryabkov said, according to Russian news agencies.

“As to the possibility of exchanges of one sort of another, it’s impossible and incorrect to consider the question now when an official charge hasn’t even been presented,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti.

“Charges will be presented in the near future,” he said, according to the Interfax agency.

Some Russian news reports earlier cited unnamed sources as saying that Whelan had been indicted on espionage charges that carry a possible prison sentence of 20 years.

Officials have not given details of Whelan’s suspected activities and he was initially identified only as an American. His concurrent Canadian, British and Irish citizenships became known on Friday.

US Ambassador to Moscow Jon Huntsman Jr on Wednesday visited Whelan in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, a 130-year-old facility noted for strict conditions. Britain, Canada and Ireland have applied for consular access to him.

Whelan, 48, was discharged from the marines for bad conduct. He works as the global security director for a US automobile parts manufacturer and lives in Michigan. His family has said he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

His brother told reporters that Whelan loves to travel and likes to “interact with the people in the places that he goes,” but that Whelan would be too “conspicuous” to be selected as a spy.

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