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The curious case of the alleged American "spy" detained in Russia

Fireworks above Kremlin
Fireworks above the Kremlin in Moscow on Jan. 1. Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

More peculiar details continue to come out about Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine arrested and charged with espionage while reportedly traveling to a wedding in Moscow last week.

Driving the news: Whelan, who is facing 20 years in a Russian prison, holds Canadian, British and Irish passports — a fact that threatens to drive a wedge between Russia and four Western countries that have now sought consular access. In 2006, Whelan was arrested for attempting to steal more than $10,000 of government money while on deployment in Iraq, the Washington Post reports. He was convicted and discharged for bad conduct in 2008.

  • According to The Daily Beast, Whelan's lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov is "a former Soviet government investigator who has never before tried an espionage case involving a foreign citizen."
  • Zherebenkov told ABC News that Whelan intends to plead not guilty, but then said — unprompted — that the most likely outcome is a prisoner exchange. Security experts believe that prisoner could be Maria Butina, a confessed Russian agent who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last month, and that Zherebenkov was appointed by Russia’s domestic security agency to negotiate Butina's release.

Go deeper: American detained in Russia visited by U.S. ambassador