Family: Retired U.S. Marine suspected of spying on Russia is innocent

MOSCOW/NEW YORK, Jan 1 (Reuters) - A retired U.S. Marine detained by Russia on spying charges was visiting Moscow for a wedding and is innocent, his family said on Tuesday.

Paul Whelan was staying with the wedding party for a fellow former Marine at the Metropol hotel in Moscow when his brother David Whelan learned on Monday that he had been detained.

"His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected," his family said in a statement released on Twitter on Tuesday.

Russia's FSB state security service said the American had been detained on Friday, but it gave no details of the nature of his alleged espionage activities. Under Russian law, espionage can carry between 10 and 20 years in prison.

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Retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan arrested in Russia
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Retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan arrested in Russia
Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears in a photo provided by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. Courtesy Whelan Family/Handout via REUTERS
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A U.S. State Department representative said Russia had notified it that a U.S. citizen had been detained and it expected Moscow to provide consular access to see him.

"Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it," the representative said, without providing details of the identity of the American or the reasons behind his detention.

David Whelan declined to comment on his brother’s work status at the time of his arrest and whether his brother lived in Novi, Michigan, as address records indicate.

BorgWarner, a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, said Whelan is the "company’s director, global security. He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world."

Russia's relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Washington and Western allies have imposed a broad range of sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.

Earlier this month, Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to a conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors, and admitted to working with a top Russian official to infiltrate American conservative activist groups and politicians as an agent for Moscow.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Diane Craft)

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