Family hopes for spy exchange after Paul Whelan convicted of espionage by Russia

Family hopes for spy exchange after Paul Whelan convicted of espionage by Russia

TORONTO — The family of a Canadian-American corporate security executive convicted of espionage by a Russian court say they are trying to bring him back home.

Paul Whelan, who was born in Ottawa but holds Canadian, American, British and Irish citizenship, was convicted Monday and sentenced to 16 years in prison after a closed trial in Moscow that the U.S. has denounced as a “mockery of justice.”

His twin brother David, who lives in Toronto, said their family always expected a conviction, but the Russian government wouldn’t speak about potentially releasing Paul until the court had rendered its verdict.

“Today is really the removal of that obstacle. It’s the silver lining,” David Whelan said in an interview. “Now we can say, OK, everybody can get down to brass tacks and figure out how to get Paul home.

“It may be a positive discussion or may be a negative discussion but I think that there are tools there, that the U.S. government and the Russian government have used in the past.”

Paul Whelan, an American corporate security executive who also holds British and Irish citizenship, has insisted he is innocent, saying he was set up when he was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 while visiting Russia to attend a friend’s wedding.

David Whelan said that aside from one 15-minute phone call to their parents in Michigan, the family has had no direct contact with Paul since his arrest nearly 18 months ago. Paul Whelan underwent emergency surgery two weeks ago for a hernia, and David said the family only learned about the procedure from reading about it in the newspaper.

“That tends to be our primary way of getting timely information or if one of the four embassies have gone to see Paul and brings back messages from him,” said Whelan, who lives in Toronto.

“Then we are sometimes able to send back messages that way.”

David Whelan also notes that one of his brother’s two lawyers speaks English and can carry messages back and forth, but only with permission from the judge or the prosecutor.

Vladimir Zherebenkov, Whelan’s Russian lawyer, has pointed at Russian official statements signalling a possibility that his client could be exchanged for Russians Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko.

Bout, a Russian arms trader, is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. for a 2011 conviction on charges he conspired to sell millions of dollars of weapons to Colombian rebels. He insisted he was a legitimate businessman.

Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot, is serving a 20-year sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. after he was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the U.S.

Russian officials and lawmakers have cast the convictions of Bout and Yaroshenko as politically motivated and pushed for their release.

Arne Kislenko, who teaches the history of espionage at Ryerson University and used to work in intelligence, said it seems as though Whelan’s case was always a political ploy by the Russian government.

“Just the way that the trial’s been shaped, the outcome — which was obviously a foregone conclusion — it has all the dynamics of political theatre,” said Kislenko.

“Having studied and followed Russian politics in this respect, then it’s likely they have an endgame and I think that endgame is an exchange of some sort.”

David Whelan said his family has been in touch with lobbyists that have connections to U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as members of Congress, to help facilitate a trade.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne weighed in on the issue in a tweet Monday evening, saying Canada is “deeply concerned” by Whelan’s conviction and “severe” sentence.

“We call upon Russia to ensure a fair and transparent appeal process,” Champagne wrote.

“We will continue to work with our partners from (Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States) to support him and his family.”

— With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2020.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

Espionage

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City and County of Wetaskiwin reporting active cases

Both the City of Wetaskiwin and County of Wetaskiwin have active cases.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owners found

Father and son found him while out for a walk at JJ Collett

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

Most Read