Moscow court extends detention of Canadian-born Paul Whelan another 3 months

A Russian court ruled on Friday that Canadian-born Paul Whelan, who has been accused of spying, should be held in a pretrial detention facility for an additional three months to give investigators more time to look into his case.

Russia has accused the former U.S. marine of spying

Canadian-born Paul Whelan was in a Moscow courtroom cage on Friday, for a ruling that has extended his detention in Russia on allegations of spying. (Shamil Zhumatov /ReutersS)

A Russian court ruled on Friday that Canadian-born Paul Whelan, who has been accused of spying, should be held in a pretrial detention facility for an additional three months to give investigators more time to look into his case. 

Whelan, a former U.S. marine who has lived and worked in the U.S. most of his life, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, an allegation he denies. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

Whelan holds Canadian, American, British and Irish citizenship. The U.S. has taken the lead on his case, but Canadian, British and Irish officials are all also working on the file, his brother told CBC News earlier this year.     

The case has put further strain on already poor U.S.-Russia relations as has that of another detained American, private equity chief Michael Calvey.

Russia's Federal Security Service detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information. Whelan's lawyer says his client was misled.

Whelan had met the same person in the town of Sergiev Possad in May last year where they visited the town's monastery and other tourist sites, the lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told reporters on Friday.

When Whelan returned to Russia again in December to attend a wedding, the same acquaintance unexpectedly turned up and gave him a flash drive containing what Whelan thought were photographs of the earlier trip, Zherebenkov said.

"Paul and I consider this was a provocation and a crime by his acquaintance," said Zherebenkov, saying his client had known the man, who he did not name, for several years.

'I could do with care packages'

Whelan appeared in court in a cage on Friday and looked downcast when he spoke briefly to reporters before masked security officials cut him off.

"I could do with care packages, food, things like that, letters from home," Whelan said.

The court said Whelan would be held in pretrial detention until May 28, extending an earlier ruling to keep him in custody until Feb. 28.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said a consular official had visited Whelan in custody on Thursday.

It said, however, that it was unable to provide further information as Whelan had not been allowed by investigators to sign a privacy act waiver (PAW) that would legally allow the U.S. government to release information about the case.

"In every other instance, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Mr. Whelan's case, the Investigative Committee is not allowing this to happen. Why is this case any different?" Andrea Kalan, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said on Twitter.

"Consular access without being able to do true consular support is not real access," she added.  

With files from CBC News