Russia will extend the investigation into detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan by three months, according to his defense lawyer.
Russian authorities will continue their investigation until May 28 into what Whelan, who is accused of spying for the U.S., was doing in the country, said Whelan’s defense attorney, Vladimir Zherebenkov, according to state-run news outlet Tass.
Whelan, a 48-year-old former Marine, was seized and detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service in Moscow in late December while visiting for a friend’s wedding, his family said. His lawyer maintains he was unwittingly handed a flash drive with a “state secret,” but official details of the case remain sparse. He faces 20 years in prison in Russia if convicted.
Last month, Russia objected to accusations that it is using Whelan as a bargaining chip to secure the return of Maria Butina, a Russian agent who pled guilty to trying to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“In Russia, people are never used as pawns in a diplomatic game,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Whelan is also a citizen of Ireland, Canada, and Britain, the latter of which has warned Russia against holding him.
“We don’t agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games because it is desperately worrying for not just the individual and the families, and we are all extremely worried about him and his family as we hear this news,” British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said.
Just days ago, Russia detained another U.S. citizen, investor Michael Calvey, on fraud charges.