Ex-Marine arrested in Moscow for ‘spying’ is innocent, family says

Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears in a photo provided by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 02 January 2019

Ex-Marine arrested in Moscow for ‘spying’ is innocent, family says

  • Russia’s FSB domestic security service said the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage”

WASHINGTON: An American ex-Marine arrested in Moscow for alleged espionage is innocent, his family said Tuesday.
The detention of Paul Whelan marked the latest in a series of espionage cases between Russia and the West.
“We have read reports of the arrest in Moscow of Paul Whelan, our son and brother,” said a statement posted on Twitter by David Whelan, who said he is the brother of Paul.
“Paul is a retired Marine and was visiting Moscow to attend a wedding,” it continued, adding that he stopped being in communication with his family on Friday, “which was very much out of character for him even when he was traveling.”
The family added they learned of the arrest through the media on Monday morning and had been in touch with US lawmakers, as well as the State Department.
“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” the statement said.
Russia’s FSB domestic security service said the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage.”
A criminal case had been opened under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code which allows for prison sentences of up to 20 years, the FSB said in a statement.
Whelan’s employer, US-based automotive components supplier BorgWarner, said that he is the firm’s director of global security.
“He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world,” the company said in a statement, adding it has been in contact with relevant US authorities “in order to help our employee and the US government.”

Born 48 years ago in Canada, Whelan had gone to Moscow for the marriage of a fellow ex-Marine with a Russian woman, his brother David told US media.
Speaking to Canada’s CBC News, David Whelan said “there’s no chance” the Russian accusations against his brother are accurate.
“Paul has a law enforcement background. He is a Marine. He has worked in corporate security, and he is very aware of both the rule of law and the risks of traveling in countries that may have risks to travelers,” the brother said.
“There’s no chance that he would have taken those sorts of risks while on a trip to Moscow, let alone to break any law but to break the espionage act.”
The US State Department said Monday it had been formally notified by Russia’s foreign ministry and was seeking access to the detained American.
“Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” the State Department said.
“There is apparently a window of about 72 hours which has to pass before anybody can see Paul and that time hasn’t passed as of today,” Whelan’s brother told CBC.
“So we are hoping tomorrow that we will hear about Paul’s condition and his well-being.”
The arrest came after President Vladimir Putin accused Western nations of using espionage cases to try to undermine an increasingly powerful Russia.
US intelligence services have accused Moscow of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged 25 Russians — including members of the GRU military intelligence — and three Russian companies for that alleged interference but they have not been arrested.
In December, Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a Federal Court in Washington to acting as an illegal foreign agent.
Butina faces up to six months in prison, followed by likely deportation.

Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

Updated 22 min ago

Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

  • South Korean diplomatic missions increases scrutiny of visa applicants
  • Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea is on high alert after a UN Security Council report warned hundreds of Uzbeks linked to terrorist networks could have entered the country.

The report on Daesh and Al-Qaeda stated members of the Katibat Imam Al-Bukhari and Katibat Al-Tawhid wal Jihad groups had requested entry to South Korea via Turkey. The militants chose the South due to the large Uzbek community already living there.

“Many ethnic Uzbeks request deportation from Turkey to the Republic of Korea, where the total number of Uzbeks is estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000,” the reports states. “Some Uzbek migrant workers in the Republic of Korea are reported to have been radicalized, and to be a source of financing for the travel of extremists to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Seoul has asked South Korean diplomatic missions overseas to increase scrutiny of Uzbeks applying for South Korean visas.

“Upon receiving the UN report, we ordered the immigration office to tighten its screening of Uzbek travelers from Turkey,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. 

“We also asked our embassy in Turkey and other diplomatic offices overseas to thoroughly examine the travel documents of Uzbek visa applicants while closely watching any unusual movements (regarding Uzbeks) here and abroad.”

Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea, so they are required to apply at the South Korean Embassy in Uzbekistan. If they have permanent residence or long-term residency in another country, however, they can apply for a visa in a third country.

“We’ll limit issuing visas to Uzbek citizens confirmed to have visited banned countries, including Syria,” a ministry spokeswoman told Arab News. “In addition, we’ll try to block the entry of terror suspects while strengthening cooperation with foreign governments to stop any influx of terrorists to our nation.”

Terrorism is rare in South Korea, but fear and hatred toward terrorism prevail though the nation has a very small Muslim community of about 135,000, 0.3 percent of the population.

South Korea sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s at the request of the US. In 2004, a South Korean worker in Iraq was beheaded by militants who called for the withdrawal of South Korean troops from their country.

In 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries were abducted by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were executed before a deal was reached for their return.

In 2015, an Indonesian was arrested by Korean police for suspected links to a terrorist group. The 32-year-old was suspected to have links to Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. In that same year, the National Intelligence Service revealed that 10 South Koreans had tried to contact Daesh.