Paul Whelan says flash drive at heart of Russian espionage case was planted on him

Alec Luhn
Paul Whelan, charged with espionage, arrives for his trial at a court in Moscow, Russia on September 17, 2019 - Anadolu

A British-American citizen held on espionage charges in Moscow has said a Russian agent framed him by slipping a flash drive with sensitive information into his pocket before he was arrested.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan, 48, was detained by FSB agents at his room in the Metropole hotel near the Kremlin in December with a flash drive that allegedly contained state secrets.

His lawyer previously said he believed he was receiving photographs from a trip he had taken to a town of ancient cathedrals during his extensive travels in Russia.

Mr Whelan, who holds American, British, Irish and Canadian passports and worked as a security specialist for a US-based auto parts company, said he travelled to Russia for a friend's wedding.

On Tuesday, Mr Whelan told journalists at a court hearing that he had gone an excursion to the Kremlin and returned to change for the wedding.

A person he had known for 10 years but who was actually an FSB agent “turned up at my room and put something in my pocket, then I was arrested,” he said.

He said he didn't know what was on the flash drive. “I didn't know I had it until I was arrested. This is 100 per cent a provocation, and a really bad one,” he said.

The court dismissed his appeal of his confinement in pretrial detention.

As the judge read his decision, Mr Whelan continued speaking from the glass defendant's cage, calling the case against him nonsense.

The investigation has been concluded, and the defence is studying the case materials.

Mr Whelan also complained of poor treatment in prison, saying his golden retriever in the states receives better medical care.

He previously said that guards had exacerbated a hernia he suffers from by forcing him to move his things.

He has called on Donald Trump and the governments of which he is a citizen for help. While Mr Trump has not commented on the case, members of congress introduced resolutions last week calling on Russia to show credible evidence of Mr Whelan's guilt or release him.

Elizabeth Whelan said this month that her brother's rights were being violated by his “unlawful amd continued detention”. US ambassador Jon Huntsman previously called on Russia to “quit playing games” and let him go.

The Russian foreign ministry responded this week by arguing that the United States had imprisoned Russians like convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout and gun rights advocate Marina Butina, who is set to be released next month, on “fabricated charges”.