American accused of spying in Russia sentenced to 16 years in jail

A former U.S. marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying was sentenced Monday to 16 years in jail, according to state media reports.

Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in the Russian capital at the end of December 2018. He was accused of espionage, a charge he denies.

Whelan's defense said they would appeal the decision within 10 days, according to Russian news agency, Interfax.

Spying charges carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.

Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, told MSNBC after his detention that he was in Russia to attend a wedding but never made it to the ceremony. He also said the family had learned Whelan had been detained from online news reports.

Whelan has been detained in Russia for over 17 months. His trial has been closed to the public because Moscow says the case is classified.

Image: Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow (Mladen Antonov / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow (Mladen Antonov / AFP - Getty Images)

Rebecca Ross, spokesperson at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, said Monday ahead of the verdict that Whelan had been subjected to a “secret trial with no evidence.”

“If he is found guilty, after his secret trial with no evidence, the world will see how the Russian judicial system mocks the very idea of justice,” she tweeted.