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US citizen Paul Whelan formally charged in Russia with espionage, lawyer says

A US citizen and corporate security director detained in Russia on accusations of spying is a retired Marine who was in Moscow for a wedding, his twin brother said Tuesday.

American citizen Paul Whelan has been formally charged in Russia with espionage, his lawyer said Thursday, almost a week after he was detained in Moscow while on what his family says was only a vacation trip.

Whelan, 48, a Michigan resident and director of global security for a US-based automotive components supplier, was arrested December 28 in Moscow on suspicion of carrying out an espionage act, Russia has said.

The Russian government announced the arrest three days ago; no further details about the specific allegations against him have been released.

Whelan’s condition and mood are good, and the prison where he’s being kept has treated him well, his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told CNN on Thursday. Zherebenkov declined to speak about details of the charges.

It could be half a year before a court date is set, said Zherebenkov, adding that he has asked that Whelan be released on bail.

Whelan’s family rejects notions that he was a spy, asserting that the discharged Marine reservist was in Russia to attend a wedding for a fellow former US service member and a Russian woman.

US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited Whelan in Russia’s Lefortovo Detention Facility on Wednesday and spoke with his family by telephone after the visit, a US State Department spokesman said.

Whelan’s arrest came 15 days after alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in US federal court to trying to infiltrate political circles and influence US relations with Russia. Former US national security officials have speculated to CNN that the arrest of Whelan, spy or not, could be Russian government retaliation for Butina’s prosecution.

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