March 25, 2019

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American Accused of Spying in Russia Is Marine Veteran Who Visited Moscow for Wedding, Family Says

American Accused of Spying in Russia Is Marine Veteran Who Visited Moscow for Wedding, Family Says
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The American man who was arrested last week in Russia on a spying charge is a Marine Corps veteran who was in Moscow to attend a wedding, his family said on Tuesday.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the F.S.B., said on Monday that the American, Paul N. Whelan, had been detained on Friday “during an act of espionage,” and that a criminal case had been opened against him. Conviction on a spying charge in Russia carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

“We noticed that he was not in communication,” his parents and siblings said in a statement, “which was very much out of character for him even when he was traveling.”

They said they had not learned of his arrest until it was reported by the news media on Monday. Since then, they have contacted an array of United States government offices.

“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being,” the family statement said. “His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected.”

Mr. Whelan, 48, is the director of global security for BorgWarner, an auto parts maker based near Detroit, his twin brother, David, wrote in an email.

“We understand that the U.S. government will see him within a 72-hour window that has already begun,” David Whelan wrote.

“Paul was attending a wedding for a fellow former Marine,” he wrote. “The wedding party were staying at the Metropol hotel” in Moscow.

He added that the family did not know of “anyone who has seen or interacted with him since just before 5 p.m. in Moscow on the 28th.”

On Tuesday, BorgWarner said in a statement that Mr. Whelan started working for the company in 2017 and that he was responsible for overseeing security at its facilities in Auburn Hills, Mich., and at other company locations around the world.

The company said it had learned of Mr. Whelan’s arrest from news reports published on Dec. 31. Kathy Graham, a spokeswoman for BorgWarner, wrote in an email that employees often plan vacations from Dec 24. through Jan. 2, when the company closes for the holidays.

“He was not on company business, it is our understanding he was on a personal trip,” she said. “We do not have any facilities in Russia.”

The company’s statement said BorgWarner had been in contact with American government authorities about Mr. Whelan’s arrest.

A press officer for the State Department said by email that the department had been notified of Mr. Whelan’s arrest by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access,” the officer said. “We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it.”

Further details about the case could not be provided because of privacy concerns, the press officer said.

The arrest came 15 days after a Russian woman, Maria Butina, pleaded guilty in Washington to conspiring to act as a foreign agent, working with Russian officials to influence American political figures. The Kremlin has claimed she is innocent, insisting that Ms. Butina never acted as an agent for Moscow.

Tensions between the two capitals have been high over a series of revelations about Russia’s clandestine efforts to influence United States politics and the 2016 election. Russian officials have denied any involvement in such efforts.

While it is not yet clear what prompted Mr. Whelan’s arrest, Russia has been known to arrest foreigners with an eye toward trading them for Russians held abroad.

David Whelan said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that the family was relying on recommendations from the United States Embassy in Moscow about a possible lawyer, and it was also contacting congressional representatives to help Mr. Whelan with “whatever legal jeopardy he is in in Moscow.”

He described his brother as a “kind soul” who was generous and “often has stories that make you eye-roll.”

David Whelan said that since his brother had been to Russia before, he perhaps thought that he could “maybe help other families navigate their way around, and that kind of thing.” He said Paul was more worried about the family dog’s veterinarian appointment and about his parents slipping on the ice than his trip.

“He was not concerned about his trip to Russia,” David Whelan said.



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