Live

Watch CBSN Live

Family of American detained in Russia urges Congress to take action

Sources: American jailed in Russia not a spy

The family of Paul Whelan, an American man detained in Russia on espionage charges, is urging Congress to take action and ensure his release from detention. Members of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow were given access to Whelan and confirmed that he is safe, the family said in a statement Friday.

"Our focus remains on ensuring that Paul is safe, well treated, has a good lawyer, and is coming home. We urge the U.S. Congress and the State Department to help on Paul's behalf to secure his release and return him home soon," the family said.

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, met with Whelan earlier this week at the Lefortovo Detention Facility. The family thanked Huntsman for staying in "regular contact" with Whelan and assuring his "rights will be respected."

Whelan's brother David told CBS News that Whelan traveled to Russia on December 22 for a friend's wedding. The last time David heard from his brother was last Friday. The family first discovered he was detained through media reports. 

U.S. intelligence and State Department sources told CBS News they are confident Whelan is not a spy. His family also denies all the accusations against him.

Since 2017, Whelan has worked for a Michigan-based auto parts company called BorgWarner, most recently as director of global security. He spent 14 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was discharged in 2008 for bad conduct related to larceny, according to the military. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday the U.S. would demand Whelan's immediate return if the detention was not deemed appropriate. If guilty, Whelan could face up to 20 years in prison.