British government concerned after Russian Federation detains United Kingdom citizen on espionage charges

Marina Lystceva  TASS

Earlier in the day, United Kingdom officials told The Times newspaper that Paul Whelan, who was detained in Moscow last Friday on suspicion of espionage, holds British citizenship.

David Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow station chief, said it was "possible, even likely", that Russian Federation had detained Whelan to set up an exchange for Butina.

Hints of the case against Whelan emerged Thursday when the Russian Rosbalt news agency described Whelan's arrest in his hotel.

Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs on January 4 confirmed that Whelan also holds Irish citizenship and said it was also requesting consular access to him in Moscow.

Mr Whelan is a retired Marine who has British citizenship through his parents.

Separately, Irish broadcaster RTE reported Whelan also holds an Irish passport and is seeking consular assistance from Ireland, as well.

In addition to demands by the Trump administration for greater details on Russia's claims against Whelan, three other nations are now in the mix and offering potential assistance.

Whelan, a 48-year-old former Marine and security director for a US company, was arrested a week ago in Moscow, accused of spying.

The FSB has opened a criminal case against Whelan but given no details of his alleged activities. In Russia, a spying conviction carries a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

"Individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage [or] being used in diplomatic chess games", Hunt said.

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to Russian Federation, met with Whelan earlier this week at the Lefortovo Detention Facility. "Then we will see", he said, according to the Interfax news agency. He expressed gratitude to the US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, for his assistance.

Earlier this week, NPR asked John Sipher, a former member of the CIA's Clandestine Service who worked in Moscow, whether Whelan fits the profile of an American spy working inside Russian Federation - to which Sipher replied, "Absolutely not".

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He was in Moscow to help plan the wedding of another former Marine because he had been to Russian Federation several times before, his brother said.

Mr Whelan has been visiting Russian Federation for over a decade for business and pleasure, his twin brother said today.

"We urge the U.S. Congress and the State Department to help on Paul's behalf to secure his release and return him home soon", the family said.

Many in the West question whether the arrest was in retaliation to USA conviction of Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina.

Whelan received a "bad conduct" discharge from the Marines, according to his official military personnel file obtained by Fox News.

The news that Paul Whelan holds citizenship in four countries brings worldwide pressure on Russian Federation from several fronts.

He says the family's "focus remains on ensuring that Paul is safe, well treated, has a good lawyer, and is coming home".

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this week the United States had asked Russian Federation to explain Whelan's arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determines his detention is inappropriate. He rose in the ranks of the Marines to staff sergeant and served during the Iraq War.

Accusations made by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson that the Kremlin was behind the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury previous year were dismissed by Vladimir Putin.

Whelan is being held in Moscow's Lefortovo prison, accused by Russian Federation of trying to steal official secrets.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was extremely anxious about Whelan, who was detained by Russia's FSB state security service in Moscow a week ago on suspicion of spying.

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