Family Disputes Russian Charges That Paul Whelan Is A Spy
NOEL KING, HOST:
All right. Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, visited Paul Whelan in Russian detention yesterday. The State Department says Huntsman expressed his support and offered the embassy's assistance. Whelan was detained in Moscow over the weekend on charges of spying. His family says he was in Russia for a friend's wedding.
David Whelan is Paul Whelan's twin brother. He's on the line with us now from Toronto, Canada. Mr. Whelan, I know this is a hard time for your family. Thanks for joining us.
DAVID WHELAN: Thank you, Noel.
KING: So I understand Ambassador Huntsman spoke, by phone, to your family yesterday. What did he tell you?
WHELAN: He told us what we hoped to hear, which was that Paul was alive and well, considering the conditions - I mean, being held in a Russian jail - that he was now aware that we could start helping him to get a lawyer and to help get funds to him so he can buy personal things to - like toilet paper and things that you need in a Russian jail. So it was really just a good check to know that he was well and still alive.
KING: Some suggestion, though, there that your brother may be there for a while - a lawyer and supplies. Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this about your brother's detention.
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MIKE POMPEO: We've made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he's been accused of. And if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return.
KING: What do you think that means?
WHELAN: Well, it sounds to me, just from the conversations that we've had on our end and the information we've been able to gather, that no one still really knows the details for why Paul has been arrested. And we all know the allegations that he is alleged to be a spy. But there hasn't - I haven't - we haven't heard any details on the family side about why he's being held, certainly nothing to substantiate spying.
KING: Yesterday, the U.S. military told NPR that your brother was a Marine reservist who was discharged in 2008 for bad conduct and, in fact, indicted on a charge of larceny. That was after 14 years of service. Do you think that could be playing a part in the State Department's response? And is there anything that you want to say about that?
WHELAN: The bad conduct discharge was news to us this week in the family.
KING: It was?
WHELAN: That was a surprise. And I think it's not unreasonable to expect that people will try and put out their best self. And, you know, Paul, understandably, might not have wanted to share that with his family.
I don't think it has any implication or impact on this situation. I mean, I don't have any details to say that it doesn't, but it seems to be a relatively innocuous sort of thing. He's not a lawbreaker. He doesn't have a criminal record in the States. It just - it seems an extremely arbitrary situation that has somehow netted him.
KING: Have you or your family been able to speak with your brother or get him any kind of message through the ambassador?
WHELAN: We've just been able to communicate that we are thinking of him and that we are working on his behalf. But, no, none of us have been able to speak with him.
KING: I understand your brother is the director of global security for an auto parts company. As far as you know, did he go to Russia often? Did his work take him to Russia often?
WHELAN: It was my understanding that he had traveled to Russia for work at some point in the past. And I know that he's traveled there for personal interests, for visiting friends that he's met on social media. And he travels widely. I mean, Russia's just one of many places that he has traveled to over the last, you know, 20 or 30 years. He's just always enjoyed travel. So I think Russia just happened to be a place that he was at the time.
KING: And you have said that Paul was in Moscow for a friend's wedding. Have you confirmed that? And have you heard from the friend that he was meant to be there visiting?
WHELAN: Yes. In fact, when Paul went missing on the Friday, we knew he went missing on the Friday because his friend, the groom, texted him and knew that Paul's lack of appearance at the actual wedding - I mean, sort of the whole purpose of being in Moscow - was very uncharacteristic of Paul. So we knew that that was sort of the timeline - when the groom filed a missing persons report with the embassy in Moscow.
And we had an inkling that there was a problem because even on Friday and Saturday, communications that would normally have been sent to my mom and dad and to our dog, because he dotes on the family pet - there was just nothing. It was completely out of communication. That was very uncharacteristic, too. So we'd spent the weekend sort of looking for information that might help us to know what had happened to him because he might have been mugged or in a car accident or who knows?
KING: And so this was entirely unexpected. David Whelan, the brother of Paul Whelan, who's in Russian detention on charges of spying. Mr. Whelan, thank you so much for your time.
WHELAN: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.