“We met at the detention facility today, discussed the issue, and decided against appealing the sentence, since he does not believe in Russian justice,” Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told the Interfax news agency Tuesday. “He hopes for being exchanged for the Russians convicted in the United States in the near future.”
The deadline to appeal is 10 days after the sentencing, or Thursday.
Speaking on the courthouse steps last week after the 50-year-old Whelan was convicted, Zherebenkov said that swapping Whelan for one or two Russians serving prison sentences in the United States was already being discussed. Whelan was told by Russian security service agents he would be part of an exchange shortly after his arrest, Zherebenkov said.
The lawyer added: “I heard talk that, why should we waste time on the appeal if we can just go ahead with the exchange?”
Zherebenkov then identified two Russians the Kremlin might want in a trade: Konstantin Yaroshenko and Viktor Bout.
Yaroshenko, a 51-year-old pilot, is serving a 20-year prison sentence at the Danbury, Conn., federal prison for conspiracy to bring drugs into the United States. The 53-year-old Bout, a gunrunner, was the inspiration behind Nicholas Cage’s character in the 2005 film “Lord of War” and was on the radar of Western intelligence agencies for years before a 2008 Drug Enforcement Administration operation led to his capture.
Bout’s exploits earned him the nickname “Merchant of Death” for the conflicts he helped fuel.In Afghanistan, he equipped opposite sides: the Taliban and Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance. Bout is serving a 25-year sentence at the federal prison in Marion, Ill.
In an email last week, Whelan’s twin brother, David Whelan, said the family “wouldn’t oppose” securing Whelan’s release through an exchange. But, comparing his brother to the British comedy character Mr. Bean, he wrote, “I do not believe that any government would exchange Mr. Bean for ‘The Merchant of Death.’ ”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment Tuesday on a potential prisoner exchange involving Whelan. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters last week that a possible swap with the United States involving Whelan had not been discussed.
Shortly after Whelan’s sentencing, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, said: “What we’re looking for is not an exchange. We’re looking for justice for Paul Whelan.”
Asked if President Trump would personally appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for Whelan’s release, Sullivan declined to comment. Whelan also has Canadian, Irish and British citizenship. His lawyer told Interfax on Tuesday that he has not yet made a decision on whether he will write a formal appeal to Putin asking for Whelan’s release.
“I know that others in the Russian government have suggested this idea, but we don’t trade people,” Sullivan said last Monday. “We focus on individual justice. There have been certain individuals, Russian citizens, who’ve been tried and convicted in federal court in the United States in public trials, with defense counsel of their own choosing, subject to all of our constitutional protections of due process. . . .
“We cannot say that about Paul Whelan. He’s been subject to a secret trial, with secret evidence, and now this secret court has simply announced a judgment of conviction and pronounced the sentence of 16 years. There’s no equivalence.”
Whelan said throughout the trial that he was framed, unwittingly receiving a flash drive containing what prosecutors claimed were “state secrets” while he was visiting Russia for a wedding in 2018. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Whelan was caught “red-handed.” Whelan, arrested on Dec. 28, 2018, has said he thought the flash drive that he received from an acquaintance contained holiday photos.
Another American who could be involved in a potential prisoner exchange with Russia is Michael Calvey, a 52-year-old prominent U.S. investor based in Russia who was detained in February 2019 on suspicion of “fraud carried out by an organized group.” Such a crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code.
His private equity firm, Baring Vostok Capital Partners, says Russian authorities detained him and three employees as a result of a shareholder dispute at a bank, Orient Express, in which the firm holds a stake. Calvey is currently under house arrest in Moscow.
Calvey’s lawyer, Timofei Gridnev, announced Tuesday that his client has been diagnosed with cancer, appealing to a Moscow court to rule against extending his house arrest. Gridnev told reporters that “doctors have given a favorable prognosis.”
Trevor Reed, a 28-year-old retired Marine, is also detained in Moscow, accused of grabbing a police officer’s arm and causing the car they were in to swerve. He was charged with “the use of violence dangerous to the life and health against a government official in the performance of their duties,” which carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The Reed family contends that the charges are false.