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Paul Whelan, ex-U.S. Marine, won't appeal 16-year sentence for spying in Russia

Michigan man sentenced in Russia spy case
Michigan man sentenced in Russia spy case 02:10

Moscow — Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine convicted last week of espionage by a Russian court, is not going to appeal his 16-year prison sentence, his lawyers said Tuesday. The American is hoping instead to be released as part of a hypothetical prisoner exchange, according to his legal team in Moscow.

Whelan, a 50-year-old American national who also holds British, Irish and Canadian passports, was arrested in the Russian capital in December 2018. The court accepted prosecutors' claims that he worked for American intelligence and was caught "red-handed" receiving a USB drive containing classified information. He has maintained his innocence, insisting he was framed, throughout the legal proceedings.

The Moscow City Court found him guilty on June 15 and handed down the 16-year sentence. After the sentencing his defense team said they were planning to appeal, but that the final announcement would be made after a meeting with Whelan in the detention center this week.

Verdict hearing of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, in Moscow
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, holds a sign as he stands inside a defendants' cage during his verdict hearing in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020. MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS

"After a discussion it was decided not to appeal the verdict," Whelan's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said in comments to the media following a meeting with his client, adding that Whelan, "hopes that in the near future he will be exchanged with Russians convicted in the U.S."

Zherebenkov did not elaborate.

Olga Karlova, another member of the legal team, told CBS News that the decision doesn't mean Whelan has accepted the guilty verdict.

"He wrote in his statement: 'I don't believe in Russian justice,' Karlova said, adding that he didn't want to waste three more months on an appeal he didn't believe could succeed.

Whelan's conviction last week fueled speculation about a possible prisoner exchange. Media reports, and Zherebenkov, suggested that Russia was interested in swapping the American for pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted on drug smuggling charges, and possibly even notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the Merchant of Death.

Viktor Bout: "The Merchant of Death" 12:54

Washington hasn't openly voiced any interest in such a deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Whelan's conviction last week and U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan called the trial "a mockery of justice" as he left the court building. He declined to discuss the possibility of a potential prisoner exchange.

"The Russian Federation has been trying to get Bout and Yaroshenko for years, by any means. Just [because] Russia's selling, doesn't mean anyone's buying," Whelan's brother, David, said in a tweet last week. 

Whelan's family had expressed hope, however, that Washington and Moscow might start discussing his potential release after the formal conviction.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that the Russian government had noted Whelan's decision not to appeal his conviction, but he didn't offer any further comment.

U.S. intelligence and State Department sources told CBS News not long after Whelan's arrest that they were confident he wasn't a spy.

At the time of his arrest Whelan was the director of global security for Michigan-based auto parts supplier BorgWarner. Before that he spent 14 years in the U.S. Marine Corps before being discharged in 2008 for bad conduct, according to the military. He served in Iraq for several months in 2004 and 2006.

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