Russia sentences ex-US marine to 16 years in prison for espionage

US denounces Russian court's verdict against Paul Whelan, with Pompeo demanding his immediate release.

    Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 [File: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters]
    Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 [File: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters]

    A Russian court has sentenced former United States marine Paul Whelan to 16 years in a maximum security prison colony on espionage charges.

    The Moscow City Court's verdict on Friday was condemned by the US envoy to Russia who said it was based on a "secret trial in which no evidence was produced".

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    Whelan stood in the courtroom defendant's cage with a sign that read "Sham trial!" and called on the US president to intervene.

    He was accused of having obtained classified Russian state information, the nature of which has not been disclosed.

    US Ambassador John Sullivan, who was present at the court in Moscow, slammed the proceedings as an "egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms", a statement by the US embassy said.

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded Whelan's immediate release.

    "The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict US citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses," he said in a statement.

    Whelan, 50, has been in Russian custody for the past year and a half.

    A flash drive and documents were confiscated from Whelan while he was arrested on a trip to Moscow in December 2018. No further details about the evidence have been revealed.

    Whelan has insisted that he is innocent. His family has said he was visiting Russia to attend a wedding.

    Appeal expected

    Whelan's brother David said lawyers would appeal against the verdict that he denounced as political, adding in a statement that "the court's decision merely completes the final piece of this broken judicial process".

    "We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities," the statement said. "We look to the US government to immediately take steps to bring Paul home."

    Whelan, born in Canada to British parents, is also a citizen of Canada, Britain and Ireland. He was employed by US auto parts supplier BorgWarner when he was detained.

    He underwent surgery two weeks ago for an abdominal hernia, state media reported. The US embassy said it was an "emergency surgery", performed because the condition had become "life-threatening".

    Inside Story: The Russian spy case

    Inside Story

    Inside Story: The Russian spy case

    SOURCE: News agencies