US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien in a statement on Monday criticized a decision by a Russian court to sentence US citizen Paul Whelan to 16 years' imprisonment on espionage charges, saying the move is “plain wrong”.
O’Brien added that the administration of US President Donald Trump “will not stop working” until Whelan returns safely to the US.
“Paul Whelan’s treatment and today’s verdict are plain wrong. This Administration will not stop working until Paul has returned safely to the United States,” O’Brien, a Trump appointee, said.
“Paul Whelan’s treatment and today’s verdict are plain wrong. This Administration will not stop working until Paul has returned safely to the United States.” - NSA Robert O’Brien https://t.co/fnhmSAp7FZ— NSC (@WHNSC) June 15, 2020
Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the sentence, saying that the White House has demanded that Russia immediately free Whelan.
“The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict US citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses,” Pompeo said. “We demand Paul Whelan’s immediate release”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed accusations against Moscow of drawing out Whelan’s prosecution, observing that the allegations are “absurd and unsubstantiated”.
“It is well known that Paul Whelan drew out for six months the process of familiarizing himself with the court materials, was reading them without a hurry, from September last year to March this year. Nevertheless, despite difficult epidemiological conditions caused by the coronavirus infection, the process took place within the expected timeframe, in strict correspondence with the Russian laws and all required norms and procedures,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Whelan, who, in addition to the US, also holds citizenship in the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, was detained by Russian authorities on 28 December 2018 on espionage charges.
The suspect claimed that he was innocent, and suggested that he had traveled to Russia to attend a friend’s wedding. Court information revealed, however, that Whelan had been visiting Russia regularly since 2007.