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American given 16-year jail term in Russia on spying charges

Paul Whelan has insisted on his innocence, saying he was set up.

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Paul Whelan has been sentenced to 16 years in prison (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Paul Whelan has been sentenced to 16 years in prison (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Paul Whelan has been sentenced to 16 years in prison (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

A Russian court has sentenced an American businessman with British citizenship to 16 years in prison on spying charges.

The Moscow City Court read out the conviction of Paul Whelan on charges of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security prison colony. The trial was held behind closed doors.

Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow in December 2018, has insisted on his innocence, saying he was set up.

Speaking after the verdict, US ambassador John Sullivan denounced the secret trial in which no evidence was produced as an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms. He described Whelan’s conviction as a mockery of justice and demanded his immediate release.

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US ambassador to Russia John Sullivan (AP/Pavel Golovkin)

US ambassador to Russia John Sullivan (AP/Pavel Golovkin)

AP/PA Images

US ambassador to Russia John Sullivan (AP/Pavel Golovkin)

Whelan’s brother David said lawyers will appeal 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, a 50-year-old corporate security executive and Marine Corps veteran from Novi, Michigan, was arrested outside a Moscow hotel. He was in Russia to attend a friend’s wedding at the time.

Whelan, who also holds Irish and Canadian citizenship, denies the charges of spying for the US that his lawyers said stem from a sting operation. Whelan’s lawyer has said his client was handed a flash drive that had classified information on it that he did not know about.

Whelan has publicly complained of poor prison conditions in Russia and has said his life is in danger. Last month, Whelan underwent surgery for a hernia.

PA Media