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Russian government arrests Michigan man, accuses him of spying

U.S. State Department
The U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The Russian government says a Michigan man who was arrested in Moscow is a U.S. spy, but the man’s family says otherwise.

Paul Whelan, 48, lives in Novi. He’s an ex-Marine and head of corporate security for automotive supplier BorgWarner.

The Russian government arrested Whelan Friday. He’s accused of carrying out an unspecified act of espionage, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service.

Whelan’s family rejects that accusation. In a statement released Wednesday on Twitter, his brother David Whelan says Paul was visiting Moscow to attend a wedding, and the family learned of his arrest and detention Monday.

"We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being," the family’s statement read. "His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected."

Whelan was born in Canada to British parents, but is now a U.S. citizen who served multiple tours with the Marine Corps in Iraq, David Whelantold CNN.

Marine Corps records released Wednesday show that Whelan was convicted in a 2008 court-martial related to larceny charges. The details of those charges were not made available. He was given a bad-conduct discharge in December of that year at the rank of private.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said it was informed of Whelan’s detention by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. has requested that Whelan be granted access to U.S. consular officials, as is his right per international law, and "we expect Russian authorities to provide it." It declined further comment "due to privacy considerations."

Updated 1/3/19 at 12:40 p.m.: This story was updated to include information about Paul Whelan's court martial and bad-conduct discharge from the U.S. Marines.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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