Russian judge denies bail for accused US spy

A Russian judge refused to release American Paul Whelan on bail Tuesday, ruling his arrest last month in a Moscow hotel room on charges of spying was legal.

The judge rejected an appeal from Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, during a brief hearing in which Whelan, 49, was confined to a metal reinforced cage amid tight security.

“The ruling of the first-instance court on choosing custody for Whelan as a pre-trial restriction measure should remain unchanged. The lawyer’s appeal should not be satisfied,” the judge said in his brief ruling obtained  by the state-run Tass news agency.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claims Whelan was on a spy mission when he was detained December 28. Whelan, 49, could face up to 20 years in a Russian prison if convicted of espionage.

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Whelan’s family denies the claim, saying he was in Russia for a wedding.

Zherebenkov said Tuesday he “can confirm that at the time of his detention, Whelan had some documents containing state secrets, but I cannot go into details.” Zherebenkov added, however, that it was not clear how Whelan received the documents or whether he was aware he had them.

Zherebenkov told the BBC he has seen no evidence that Whelan is a spy. He said Whelan was in good spirits and determined to prove his innocence.

“He feels well, he has a sense of dignity,” Zherebenkov said outside court Tuesday.

Russia’s Rosbalt news service reported that Whelan was in the hotel room when he received a flash drive containing a list of employees of a unit within the Russian Defense Ministry. Minutes later, Russian agents stormed the room and made the arrest, Rosbalt reported.

Whelan, a former Marine, was born in Canada but lives in Michigan, where he works as director of global security for auto parts supplier BorgWarner. He holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited him at Moscow’s Lefortovo pre-trial detention center Jan. 2.

According to his service record, he joined the Marine Reserves on May 10, 1994, and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He was convicted in military court January 2008 on several larceny-related charges and  was given a bad-conduct discharge.

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