Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. is prepared to demand the “immediate return” of a former Marine who was detained in Russia on Friday as soon as it learns more about the charges against him.
The prisoner, Paul Whelan, the global security chief for an auto-parts supplier in Michigan, was detained Friday on espionage charges while attending a wedding in Moscow, which he ended up missing due to his arrest. Earlier in the day, he took wedding guests to visit the Kremlin museums, but then lost contact with those who knew him.
“With respect to Mr. Whelan, who’s being held, we are hopeful within the next hours we’ll get consular access to see him and get a chance to learn more,” Pompeo told reporters during a visit to Brazil to meet with the country’s new foreign minister. “We have made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges and come to understand what it is he’s been accused of and if the detention is not appropriate we will demand his immediate return.”
The Russian Federal Security Service said Monday that Whelan, 48, was arrested taking part in an “espionage operation.”
“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” Whelan’s family said in a statement.
The former U.S. Marine served several tours in Iraq and had visited Russia on more than one previous occasion, his brother, David Whelan, said.
“Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it. Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to provide at this time,” said a statement from the State Department.
The charges against Whelan carry a prison sentence of ten to 20 years.