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Family of American arrested in Russia denies that he is a spy

"He would not have knowingly broken any law"

Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images

The family of American Paul Whelan, who was apparently arrested in Russia and charged with espionage, has denied that he is spy.

What's the backstory?

The Russian government claimed on Monday that it had arrested an American named Paul Whelan who was "caught spying" in Moscow. The Russian government did not state the nature of Whelan's alleged spying activities; however, it indicated that it had charged him with espionage and that he faced a possible prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

The United States Department of State has not confirmed Whelan's identity, but stated that it expected to be granted consular access to Whelan in order to ensure his well-being. Some have speculated that Russia is retaliating against the United States for the criminal prosecution of Maria Butina, who pled guilty on a conspiracy charge after being accused of operating as a spy in the United States.

What is happening now?

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, a man named David Whelan claimed to be the twin brother of a man named Paul Whelan, who had been arrested in Moscow. The Wall Street Journal was able to confirm that David Whelan did in fact have a twin brother named Paul, who was based in Michigan.

According to David, his brother Paul was in Moscow for a wedding. David said Paul is a former police officer and retired Marine who works in corporate security. According to David, Paul had traveled to Russia before and "understood the risks that country poses to Western travelers."

David said that Paul "would not have knowingly broken any law, let alone one involving espionage." David said that Paul was not even conducting any work-related activity on this trip to Moscow, and was merely there to attend a friend's wedding.

David told the Wall Street Journal, "As a former police officer and retired Marine, two professions that might make a person a bit fearsome, he has always amazed our kids with how gentle and comedic he can be... He has a huge laugh and while he's not necessarily fond of crowds, is gregarious in his own way and maintains a wide network of social media contacts, a number of whom are Russian."

David said that U.S. Government officials told him they expected to see Paul within a 72-hour window "that has already started."

One last thing…
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