Western governments urged to act after former US Marine held on spy charge

The brother of a former US Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying has urged Western governments to act, fearing the legal system could take years to deal with his case.

Paul Whelan, 48, was arrested in Moscow in December, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the Kremlin not to use Britons as diplomatic pawns after it emerged he has UK citizenship, through his parents, last week.

The former serviceman is also a citizen of Ireland, Canada and the US.

Paul Whelan arrest
Paul Whelan arrest

His twin brother, David, said consular officials from all four countries will be meeting on Monday to coordinate their oversight of Mr Whelan’s detention.

“We realise that it will take months or years for the Russian legal system to process Paul’s case, and we’re hopeful that action by Western governments will occur in the meantime,” he said.

David said that the US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, who visited his brother in prison last week, had assured him he was well and that the US embassy is monitoring his health and condition.

He said the US State Department has created an account to allow family members to make money available to his brother to buy basic toiletries and other items in jail.

“Those funds have now been forwarded to a bank in Moscow and should be available to Paul next week,” he said.

Paul Whelan arrest
Paul Whelan arrest

“The US Embassy staff is hoping to meet with Paul on Wednesday.

“Paul’s family continues to rally around efforts to bring him home.”

Mr Whelan, who lives in the state of Michigan, is the subject of an investigation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) over espionage charges, which carry a punishment of up to 20 years in jail, according to the Kremlin-backed Tass news agency.

There has been speculation he could be used to barter for the release of Russian national Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the US last month.

She admitted conspiring to infiltrate the US gun rights movement to collect intelligence on conservative political groups as Donald Trump rose to power.