MOSCOW -- Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage, also holds British citizenship, and UK authorities have asked Moscow to grant them consular access to him, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Whelan, a former Marine who is the director of global security for supplier BorgWarner, was arrested “during an espionage operation,” Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, said on Monday. He faces a sentence of as long as 20 years in prison if found guilty of spying. He was formally charged on Thursday.
The detention came two weeks after Maria Butina, a Russian gun enthusiast, pleaded guilty in the U.S. to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent. Following her deal with prosecutors, in which she faces a maximum sentence of five years, President Vladimir Putin said at his annual press conference that Russia would not “arrest innocent people simply to exchange them for someone else later on.”
Moscow and NATO countries have routinely conducted spy exchanges in the past, including the swap of 10 Russian sleeper agents for four alleged double agents in 2010.