The US citizen Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of spying, is believed by the investigation to have been collecting information about one of the Russian intelligence agencies. This could have been the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) or the Federal Security Service (FSB), a source close to the investigation told the Russian news outlet Dozhd.
According to the source, the FSB started investigating Whelan in May 2018, during his previous visit to Russia. The case materials include recordings of his phone calls and of his online correspondence.
Two of Whelan’s friends on the Russian social network VKontakte have spoken about their correspondence with him. One of them, Vladimir Izotov, said that their correspondence began when he was studying at the Military University of the Defense Ministry. They discussed mundane topics, and the American did not ask about any secrets, Izotov claims. He has already deleted the correspondence.
Another Russian, Yury Golovin from Tolyatti, said that they were looking for friends to correspond with in order to improve their language skills. During one of his visits to Russia, Whelan visited him in Tolyatti, where they discussed only cultural and other neutral topics, Golovin claims.
Golovin says that he spoke to Whelan the day before he was arrested. The American told him that he was visiting friends and would celebrate New Year in Russia. Earlier, Whelan’s brother said that he had gone to Russia to attend a wedding. Golovin claims that Whelan did not mention any wedding. He was staying in the Metropol hotel, where he was arrested.
According to Russian media reports, Whelan met with one of his friends from VKontakte. He is also reported to have received a flash drive with a list of all the employees of one of Russia’s classified intelligence departments.
Whelan himself claims that he does not know Russian, and did not understand what was being delivered to him in the hotel. He is pleading innocent, and says that the investigation is mistaken.
His attorney, Vladimir Zherebenkov, was unable to provide any detailed commentary on the case, since the case has been classified, and he was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. “America has been closely following Whelan’s case, and now they are concerned by restrictions on meetings,” he said.
Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow on 28 December on charges of espionage. It was later found out that, in addition to the US, he is a citizen of three other countries.