Michigan Man Held in Moscow Claims Russians Trying to ‘Break Him’ to Admit to Alleged Spying

The family of a Michigan man held in Russia for allegedly committing espionage is calling on the U.S. government to intervene in the case.

Michigan native Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on espionage charges he and the U.S. vehemently deny.

Michigan native Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on espionage charges he and the U.S. vehemently deny.

Courtesy of David Whelan

Michigan’s Paul Whelan was detained in Moscow at the end of last year because Russian officials say he had a flash drive containing “state secrets.”

Whelan maintains he thought the drive held pictures of a tourist trip.

He says he is being held as a political prisoner while the Russians try to coerce a confession from him for a crime he says he did not commit.

Last week, before a hearing that extended his detention for another three months, Whelan spoke to a group of reporters gathered around the holding cage he stood in, bracketed by armed guards with faces covered by ski masks.

Whelan told the BBC he had not been allowed to take a shower for two weeks, had been denied access to medical care and even prevented from receiving books and letters sent to him.  

“My personal safety has been threatened,” Whelan said through the bars of the holding cage. “There are abuses and harassment that I’m constantly subjected to. This is typical prisoner of war Chapter One isolation technique. They are trying to run me down so I will talk to them.”

U.S. diplomats say they are gravely concerned about Whelan’s comments.

They pledge to protest his treatment to the Russian government and seek permission to speak with him directly about his incarceration.

Click here to listen to an interview with David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s twin brother.


A statement by David Whelan:

May 28, 2019

Paul Whelan, former U.S. Marine and American businessman, has served 5 months in Russian prison.  He will now serve another 3 months while the Russian police continue to procure evidence to support his false arrest.  If they can’t invent anything in that time, he will likely serve additional 3 month detentions until they do.

Paul spoke out at the detention hearing, held Friday [5/24/2019] in Moscow, asking the media to contact the US, UK, Canadian, and Irish governments on his behalf. The Daily Mail captured his statement, as well as statements by Michael Yoder, US Embassy Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs (1:37), and Paul’s defense lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov (2:36).  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOlnSnZbNhM ]

Paul has complained of psychological pressure before through his meetings with consular officials.  We had seen how the FSB investigator, Alexei Khiznyak, restricts Paul’s access to letters from home, to a phone calls, and from having legal documents sent to the US Embassy and his home.  

We’ve watched as the consular staff experience interference when they attempt to ask Paul about whether his rights are being respected, and when they attempt to share messages from us to him.  This was the first time Paul has publicly described what is going on.

Paul does not receive all of the documents in his case in English.  There are such problems with translator access in Lefortovo that a Russian prison monitor has filed a lawsuit.  Another prison monitor was blocked when she tried to speak to Paul in English to find out how he is.  He last saw his lawyers on April 10, before he saw them at the hearing on Friday.  He is isolated and without information about his case.

His imprisonment continues with one goal in mind:  coercing his confession.

Judge Sergei Ryabtsev denied Paul’s request to replace the FSB investigator on his case. He agreed to the FSB’s request that Paul continue to be held in prison, despite a lack of evidence.  Paul says he is “a victim of political kidnap and ransom” and that his case is “retaliation for sanctions.”  His lawyer, Mr. Zherebenkov, agreed that that there’s no evidence that contradict’s Paul’s statement [2:45].  

Mr. Zherebenkov: “In this case, we were still not offered any evidence and it means that there are no such evidence at all.”[sic][3:02]

If there had ever been any doubt that Paul was wrongfully detained, surely those doubts are gone.  The FSB has no evidence and it is holding our son and brother in prison.  Our mother has sent him a note that he shouldn’t cooperate just so that they receive letters or word of him back home.  

We are grateful that President Putin’s Human Rights Council will be looking into Paul’s treatment at Lefortovo.  We appreciate the recent visit by Canadian consular officials [5/23/2019] and an upcoming visit the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has approved for Irish consular staff to see Paul.  We hope that the governments of the nations of which Paul is a citizen will take action to bring him home to his family.


  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.