UPDATED 10:01 AM PT — Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Russia is defending its detention of a U.S. Marine veteran by claiming he was “caught in the act” of spying. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Paul Whelan was caught red-handed carrying out illegal activities in his Moscow hotel room.
The 48-year-old Michigan resident was in Moscow to attend a wedding. His family has since said he’s innocent of the charges.
The foreign minister said Whelan will be facing spying charges, which could lead to 20-years in prison. Lavrov denied claims Whelan was arrested in order to conduct a prisoner swap with the U.S.
“Investigation is in progress, if your question assumes that his arrest may be tied to the desire to exchange (Paul) Whelan for one of our citizens — this is absolutely untrue, we never practice these kinds of things,” he stated. “I repeat, he was caught red-handed.”
According to Russian reports, Whelan has been spying for ten-years and was arrested five-minutes after receiving a thumb drive with a list of employees at a secret Russian agency.
Lavrov promised U.S. diplomats can make a second visit to the detainee, and an Irish diplomat will also be visiting him soon.