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World: Who is Paul Whelan, the former US marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018?

Germany arrests 25 suspected of far-right plot to overthrow state

  Germany arrests 25 suspected of far-right plot to overthrow state BERLIN (Reuters) -Twenty-five alleged members and supporters of a far-right terrorist group suspected of aiming to overthrow the German state were detained early on Wednesday during raids across Germany, the federal prosecutor's office said. One active soldier and several reservists are among those being investigated, a spokesperson for the military intelligence service (BAMAD) told Reuters. The active soldier is a member of the Special Forces Command, it said.

As news broke that US basketball star Brittney Griner had been released from a Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout — a former arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" — US officials didn't mince words.

"This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

He was referring to a decision to omit Paul Whelan, 52, a former US marine turned corporate security executive, who is currently serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on espionage charges (which he denies).

"I wholeheartedly wish that we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane as Britney," Mr Blinken said. "But we will stay at it."

Paul Whelan double-crossed by FSB agent he thought was a friend

  Paul Whelan double-crossed by FSB agent he thought was a friend The former US Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges was handed over to the Kremlin by a friend, who happened to be an agent with the FSB.Mr Whelan, a former US Marine, was indeed found with an FSB officer, the drive and $1,200 in cash at Moscow's Metropol, near the Kremlin, in 2018 and thrown in jail.

Here's what we know about the case.

Who is Paul Whelan and why is he in prison?

Born in Canada and a citizen of four countries, Whelan is a former US marine who served from 2003 to 2008, before being dishonourably discharged for larceny and other lesser offences.

At the time of his arrest in Russia, he was head of global security for BorgWarner, a Michigan car parts supplier.

Whelan was detained by agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in a room in Moscow's Metropol Hotel, near the Kremlin, just days after Christmas in 2018.

Investigators said he was a spy for military intelligence with a rank of colonel or higher, and had been caught red-handed with a computer flash drive containing classified information.

Whelan said he had been in Russia for a friend's wedding and had been given the drive in a sting by a Russian friend, claiming that he had thought it contained holiday photos.

Factbox-Paul Whelan, ex-U.S. Marine jailed in Russia on spying charges

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After a trial held entirely behind closed doors that US diplomats described as unfair and opaque, Whelan was convicted of spying in 2020, and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum security jail.

He is currently being held in the IK-17 penal colony in the Mordovia region, east of Moscow.

Why wasn't he included in the prison swap?

According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, authorities "didn't want to lose the opportunity to secure the release of one of them", describing the situation as "one or none".

"We've had the opportunity to speak directly to Paul Wheelan over the last 24 hours. And let me simply say that he's extraordinarily gracious, as well as being extraordinarily courageous," he added.

It was a sentiment echoed by US President Joe Biden, who said the United States would never give up on seeking Whelan's freedom, but that the prisoner swap involving Griner left few options.

Talks continue on exchange of U.S. ex-Marine held in Russia - Interfax

  Talks continue on exchange of U.S. ex-Marine held in Russia - Interfax (Reuters) -Talks on freeing former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan from prison in Russia are continuing, the Russian Interfax news agency cited his lawyer as saying on Thursday, after U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was released by Moscow in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. "Whelan is currently in the penal colony," Vladimir Zherebenkov was quoted as saying. "Discussions about his"Whelan is currently in the penal colony," Vladimir Zherebenkov was quoted as saying. "Discussions about his exchange are continuing at the level of the intelligence services, so everything is quite closed - but they are going on.

"Sadly and for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's," he said.

"And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up."

Have Paul Whelan or his family said anything?

Whelan told CNN he was "greatly disappointed" that more had not been done to secure his release.

"Especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up," he said.

"I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly."

Whelan added he had been "led to believe that things were moving in the right direction and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon".

His brother, David Whelan, said a US official had visited family members prior to the prisoner exchange — a decision that he said softened the blow of knowing his brother would stay jailed.

What happens now?

Speaking after the prisoner exchange, an official for the Biden administration said the US had proposed multiple options for Whelan's release, with officials speaking to him "at length" about the Griner deal.

But while Mr Biden has vowed the US would "never give up" on freeing him, David Whelan isn't so confident about the fate of his brother.

"I think we all realise that the math is not going to work out for Paul to come home anytime soon, unless the US government is able to find concessions," he said.

"And so I think we aren’t really sure what the way forward is."

ABC/wires

Former Marine Paul Whelan’s family defends Biden’s efforts .
The family of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Moscow since 2018, has assured that his release is a high priority for U.S. President Joe Biden after former President Donald Trump criticized the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Whelan’s sister has held a meeting with White House staff who would have conveyed […]Whelan's sister has held a meeting with White House staff who would have conveyed to the ex-Marine's family confidence.

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