Moscow – Russian prosecutors asked a Moscow court on Monday to sentence former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan to 18 years in prison on espionage charges, wrapping up a high-profile trial that has put additional pressure on the country's relations with Washington.
Whelan, 50, was arrested at a central Moscow hotel in December 2018. Investigators claim he was caught red-handed after receiving a USB drive containing classified information. Whelan, who also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship, has insisted throughout the trial that he was framed by the Federal Security Service (FSB) agent who gave him the drive.
Both the prosecution and Whelan's defense teams gave their closing arguments Monday. Whelan pleaded not guilty and asked the court to clear him of all charges, according to his lawyer Olga Karlova.
"In his moving closing remarks he spoke about how much he loves Russia and Russian people, and he never wished them ill," Karlova told CBS News after the hearing.
Whelan's twin brother David said in a statement last week that he believes there is no real evidence in the case to support the charges, but he doesn't expect an acquittal.
"We expect a wrongful conviction and can only hope that the sentence is at the lighter end of the range," he said.
U.S. officials have condemned the trial and called for Whelan's release.
The trial, which began in March, has been held mostly behind closed doors due to the classified materials in the case. Proceedings continued despite-related restrictions imposed across Russia on most businesses.
The Kommersant business daily reported, citing an anonymous source at the trial, that Whelan told the court the FSB major, who was a key witness for the prosecution, set him up to avoid repaying a debt of $1,400 (100,000 rubles).
At the time of his arrest, Whelan was the director of global security for Michigan-based auto parts supplier BorgWarner. 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.
The Moscow City Court is expected to hand down a verdict on June 15.