The Russian lawyer of imprisoned former US Marine Paul Whelan has revealed that Moscow and Washington are working on a possible prisoner swap to secure his release. He was sentenced last year to 16 years in prison for espionage.
According to his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, discussions between Russian and American intelligence agencies are already underway.
“As far as I understand, some kind of initiative has appeared. I think the American side has begun initiating talks… specifically under Biden,” he told Reuters.
As well as US citizenship, Whelan also has British, Canadian, and Irish nationality. Prior to his role as a corporate security director, he received a bad conduct discharge from the US Marine Corps.
“According to my information, negotiations are underway, and the question of a handover will be resolved in the coming two to three months,” Zherebenkov added.
Rumors of a prisoner swap between the US and Russia have been circulating for over two years, since Whelan was detained in December 2018. Moscow has been looking to exchange for pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, an alleged drug-smuggler serving 20 years.
Another name regularly suggested by Whelan’s lawyer for a possible swap is Viktor Bout, who received 25 years in prison for alleged involvement in arms dealing.
In response, the lawyer of Bout and Yaroshenko, Alexey Tarasov, revealed that he “would only welcome such negotiations,” but has not heard about them thus far.
However, according to Zherebenkov, there are numerous other options for an exchange, including unnamed Russian entrepreneurs and computer programmers.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years on June 15 last year, accused by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of espionage. His defense team claims he was set up and given a flash drive on which he expected to see photos from a tourist trip.
In June, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded his release, calling Whelan’s treatment “appalling” and claiming he was denied a fair trial.
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.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 15, 2020
US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan called the trial an “egregious violation of human rights.”
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