Alleged spy arrested in Russia didn't know he was carrying 'state secrets,' says lawyer

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan was given a flash drive containing Russian "state secrets" before he was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of spying, but did not know he had them and had not looked at them, the lawyer for Whelan, who has U.S., Canadian and other citizenships, said Tuesday.

Paul Whelan, who holds Canadian and other citizenships, was detained last month in Moscow

Paul Whelan, who holds Canadian, U.S., British and Irish citizenships, was arrested on espionage charges by Russian authorities in December. (Submitted by the Whelan Family)

The lawyer for a former U.S. marine being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying said Tuesday his client was given a flash drive containing Russian "state secrets" before he was arrested, but did not know he had them and had not looked at them.

Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., Canadian, British and Irish citizenships, was detained in Moscow at the end of December. The arrest raised speculation he could be swapped for one of the Russians held in the U.S., such as gun rights activist Maria Butina, who has pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent in the U.S.

Whelan, 48, made his first public appearance in court on Tuesday to hear the appeal of his arrest. The judge upheld the previous ruling that ordered him to be kept behind bars at least until the end of February.

Whelan was kept in a glass cage and did not speak to reporters.

Spying charges carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.

Whelan's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that when his client was detained at a Moscow hotel at the end of December, he had something with him that contained "state secrets."

The lawyer said Whelan was a frequent visitor to Russia and he asked an unnamed person to email him something about travel around the country. Whelan reportedly was not able to download it and then asked that person to put it on a flash drive.

"He was expecting to see on the flash drive some personal information like pictures or videos, something like that, about that person's previous trips around Russia," Zherebenkov told reporters. "We don't know how the materials that contain state secrets ended up there."

The lawyer said Whelan was detained before he could open the files.

Zherebenkov also said it was not clear what has happened to the person who reportedly gave the flash drive to Whelan.

The investigators have not yet disclosed which country Whelan is accused of spying for, Zherebenkov said.

Whelan was discharged from the marines for bad conduct. He works as the global security director for a U.S. automobile parts manufacturer and lives in Michigan. His family has said he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.