Maria Butina

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.

Russia formally charges American Paul Whelan with espionage

Vladimir Putin sitting in a chair in a suit and tie
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian news agency Interfax said that Russian authorities formally brought espionage charges against American citizen Paul Whelan on Thursday, per the New York Times.

The backdrop: Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Moscow last Friday and could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Intelligence experts believe he may have been detained as retribution for the arrest of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina. Whelan pleaded not guilty to espionage charges, according to his lawyer.

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