21:48 GMT19 January 2021
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    Former US Marine Paul Whelan has been held by the Russian authorities for nearly 17 months after he was arrested in Moscow in 2018 because of a flash drive in his possession that contained classified information.

    The Russian prosecutor is asking for an 18-year term in a high-security prison for US national Paul Whelan on espionage charges, according to a Moscow court.

    The court is expected to deliver a verdict in the case in June after the closing arguments.

    Whelan in his last statement maintained that he is innocent and has insisted that he came to Russia to attend a friend's wedding.

    "Whelan asked for acquittal because he is innocent. The sentence will be read on 15 June, at 11 a.m.", Whelan's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov said.

    The United States is following the court proceedings closely. The nation's ambassador has come to the court many times, but has never been allowed to enter the courtroom, since these are closed-door hearings.

    The Russian authorities detained the 50-year-old former US Marine, who is also a citizen of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland at the end of 2018 on charges of espionage. If found guilty, Paul Whelan could face up to 20 years in prison.

    According to information provided to the Russian court, Whelan has been visiting Russia regularly since 2007.

    espionage, trial, Paul Whelan, Russia
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