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Russian court refuses bail for accused American Paul Whelan

By
Clyde Hughes
Accused spy Paul Whelan was denied bail during a court hearing Monday. Photo by Whelan family/ EPA-EFE
Accused spy Paul Whelan was denied bail during a court hearing Monday. Photo by Whelan family/ EPA-EFE

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- A Russian court refused Tuesday to grant bail to former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, assuring he will remain in a Moscow prison until his pretrial detention hearing next month.

Whelan, security chief for international auto parts manufacturer BorgWarner, was formally charged with espionage and could face 20 years in prison.

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Whelan, 48, from Michigan, had said he traveled to Russia to attend a friend's wedding. The family denied he's a spy.

State-run news agency TASS reported the deliberations were held behind closed doors and contained classified data. Russia's Federal Security Service has accused Whelan of being on a spy mission when he was detained in late December.

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U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited Whelan while he was held at the Lefortovo pre-trial detention center. Whelan also holds citizenship in Britain, Ireland and Canada.

Vladimir Zherebenkov, Whelan's Russian attorney, said his client carried classified information with him when he was detained, but it's not clear how he obtained it and whether he was aware of it, Radio Free Europe/Radio Freedom reported.

Zherebenkov said he will appeal the bail ruling and continue fighting for Whelan's release.

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Whelan's arrested heightened already tense U.S.-Russia relations. A Russian national, Maria Butina, pleaded guilty last month in U.S. federal court to charges of espionage through a plea deal.

Whelan completed two tours in Iraq in the Marines, but his career ended in 2008 after he was court-martialed on larceny charges and for passing bad checks.

The former Marine had visited Russia several times and had an account on Vknotakte, the Russian version of Facebook, for about 10 years.

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