Apr 28, 2022 - World

Paul Whelan's brother asks Biden for more transparency in prisoner negotiations

Paul Whelan

Paul Whelan. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

The brother of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who in 2020 was sentenced by a Russian court to 16 years in prison on spying charges that he and his family said are false, asked the Biden administration for more transparency in prisoner release negotiations.

Why it matters: David Whelan congratulated and thanked the Biden administration for working to free Trevor Reed, another former U.S. Marine, from a Russian prison on Wednesday, but he told CBS News that it needs to be "more transparent and perhaps more realistic" with the families of other Americans falsely imprisoned by adversarial countries.

Paul Whelan, a 52-year-old corporate security executive who is also a citizen of the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018.

  • He was accused of receiving and possessing a USB drive containing classified information and was formally charged with espionage in January 2019.
  • Whelan, his lawyers and his family claim that he did not know the device contained classified information and was set up by Russian intelligence.
  • Former intelligence officials at the time said they believe he was detained as retribution for the arrest of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina.

What they're saying: President Biden said Wednesday that exchanging Reed for a Russian citizen serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the U.S. "required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly."

  • He added that the U.S. "won't stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends."

David Whelan said his family has sought a meeting with Biden over Paul's imprisonment.

  • "My message to President Biden would be, 'Thank you. You are making very difficult decisions about people's lives and about America. You're taking risks about bringing an American home and essentially laundering the injustices of Russia,'" he told CBS News.
  • "But I would ask that President Biden's staff, the secretary of state, the State Department, national security adviser Sullivan, other parts of the government, are more transparent and perhaps more realistic with families so that we can know whether we should have hopes that this will be happening with Paul, or if Paul's case is really something that's so difficult for them that we shouldn't be getting ours or his hopes up about a release coming soon," he added.

The big picture: The U.S. warned last month that the Kremlin may be specifically targeting Americans for arrest, potentially for the purpose of exchanging them for Russians held in American prisons.

  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price told PBS Newshour during an interview on Wednesday that the exchange to free Reed could not be used as a model for other cases.
  • WNBA player Brittney Griner was detained by Russia in February on drug charges.
  • "Each case is unique, so I don't want to compare one individual to the case of someone else, but we're always working around the clock to see the release of Americans who were unjustly detained," Price said.
  • He did not answer directly if the Biden administration is worried that exchanging prisoners to free U.S. citizens who were wrongly detained may encourage countries to arrest Americans so they can be used for political leverage.

Go deeper: Trevor Reed released from Russia, returns home to North Texas

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