Moscow, Jun 15 (efe-epa).- Former United States marine Paul Whelan was found guilty of espionage by a court in Moscow on Monday and sentenced to serve 16 years in a high security prison.
The move is likely to raise simmering tensions between Washington and Moscow but has been billed by some as paving the way for a prisoner swap.
Prosecutors had requested 18 years for 50-year-old Whelan, who also has Irish, British and Canadian citizenship, but judge Andrei Suvorov instead handed him 16 years.
Whelan was detained by Russian security forces (FSB) at a Moscow hotel on 28 December 2018 and accused of spying on behalf of the US.
Authorities said they had found him in possession of a USB memory stick with state secrets, including the names of people working for a Russian secret service.
Whelan, who according to his family had travelled to Russia to attend a wedding, has denied the charges and described it as a set up.
During the sentencing, Whelan held up a sign reading: “sham trial.”
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Monday said: “Outraged by the decision today to convict Paul Whelan on the basis of a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses.
“Paul’s treatment by Russian authorities continues to be appalling, and we demand his immediate release.”
Whelan’s defense team said he had received the flash drive from an acquaintance and that he thought it contained holiday photographs. He said he had no knowledge of the classified material stored on the drive.
Just before the judge read out the sentencing, Whelan appealed to the US and the United Kingdom, saying he had been a victim of a political trial.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov has denied these claims.
Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said he would appeal the conviction.
He said that Whelan had been advised by authorities on several occasions to plead guilty and be exchanged.
Zherebenkov added that the FSB have said they would try to swap Whelan for convicted arms trafficker Victor But and pilot and convicted drugs trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko.
He said nobody had tried to conceal these intentions.
The lawyer claimed that Whelan had been monitored by Russia’s secret service before his arrest. EFE