Brother of US Man in Russian Prison Says Contact Resumed

MOSCOW (AP) — The family of Paul Whelan, an American held in Russia for espionage, said Friday he has regained contact after being unexpectedly lost in November.

Along with WNBA star Brittney Griner, Whelan is at the center of a prisoner swap arrangement between the United States and Russia.

The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Washington offered to exchange Gliner and Whelan for Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who served 25 years in prison in the United States and was once nicknamed “Death Merchant”.

Whelan’s brother David said in an emailed statement that Paul called his parents early Friday US time, the first time the family had spoken with him since Nov. 23. The family was told he had been transferred to the prison hospital, but the reason was unclear as he did not speak of health problems.

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During the call, David Whelan said he did not explain why he was in hospital, but said he had been given a “special exemption”, suggesting he had previously been banned from making calls.

“So even if there is no other explanation, the call at least serves as ‘proof of life,'” he said.

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Alexei Tyurkin, chairman of the Mordovia Regional Prison Supervisory Committee where Whelan is being held, said he was undergoing “planned treatment” at the prison hospital, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported, without elaborating. .

The State Department later said Whelan had also spoken to U.S. consular officials and said he had returned from the hospital to the prison.

Whelan, a former Marine turned corporate security executive, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. His attorney said Whelan received a flash drive containing classified information that he did not know.

Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

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Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in August for drug possession after vaping canisters containing marijuana oil were found in luggage at a Moscow airport in February. Her prominence as an athlete, including two Olympic gold medals, has drawn widespread attention to her case.

Asked by reporters on Tuesday whether a swap could happen before the end of the year, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov replied: “There is always a chance.”

“Unfortunately, several times it seemed that a decision in favor of it was imminent, but it never happened,” Ryabkov said, without elaborating.

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