Paul Whelan holds up a message inside a defendants' cage in Moscow. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP

Russian prosecutors on Monday asked for the maximum 18-year jail term for former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is on trial for espionage charges that he denies, Reuters reports.

The state of play: Whelan, an American citizen who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 after allegedly receiving a USB drive containing classified information. Whelan claims he did not know it was classified material and says it was a sting operation set up by Russian intelligence.

  • The details of Whelan's trial, which is expected to produce a verdict on June 15, have been kept relatively quiet as Russia claims the case involves classified information.
  • But Whelan's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has been revealing details to the press: “The prosecution has made a very harsh demand, it’s absolutely unjustified and groundless. To be honest, we’re in shock," Zherebenkov said Monday.

What they're saying: U.S. officials have called for Wheelan’s release, describing his case as a “significant obstacle” to improving bilateral ties between Russia and the U.S.

  • U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan said, "There is no legitimacy to a procedure that is hidden behind closed doors. It is not transparent, it is not fair, and it is not impartial."

Go deeper: Trump confidant lobbying to free U.S. citizen Paul Whelan from Russia

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