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American detained in Russia visited by U.S. ambassador

Ambassador Jon Huntsman. Photo: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS via Getty Images

Paul Whelan, the American citizen arrested in Moscow last Friday on charges of espionage, was visited by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on Wednesday, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: It's unusual for such a high-ranking official to make this kind of visit, according to national security analyst Evelyn Farkas. Whelan is facing up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Some intelligence experts believe he was detained as retribution for the arrest of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina.

Details: Whelan is a 48-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran and "avowed Russophile" who was in Russia attending a wedding, according to The Daily Beast. He's the director of global security for an auto-parts supplier, BorgWarner, where he conducts investigations into "theft, fraud, sexual harassment, workplace violence" and other issues that affect the company.

  • Whelan's job puts him in "frequent contact with a variety of federal agencies," and he has visited Russia several times since 2007.

What they're saying:

  • Whelan's family told the New York Times: "We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected."
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said if Whelan's detention "is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return."
  • BorgWarner said in a statement that the company was in contact with U.S. officials in regards to Whelan's arrest.