NEW YORK, January 11. /TASS/. The family of Paul Whelan, detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage, has started a petition to ask that the US Congress, the State Department, and the White House request his immediate release, Paul’s brother David Whelan said in a written note to TASS on Friday.
"Paul's family continues to rally around efforts to bring him home, as shown in messages like this on Facebook and grassroots petition campaigns. We realize that it will take months or years for the Russian legal system to process Paul's case, and we're hopeful that action by Western governments will occur in the meantime," he said.
As many as 100,000 signatures need to be collected to get a response from the White House. According to David Whelan, as of Friday morning, 229 people signed the petition.
According to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Whelan was detained in Moscow on December 28, 2018, while on a spy mission. The FSB Investigative Department opened an investigation under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code (espionage), which carries a punishment of ten to 20 years in prison.
Whelan, 48, works as the corporate security director for automotive parts supplier BorgWarner. According to the Washington Post, he enlisted in the US Marines in 1994 and "rose through the ranks to become a staff sergeant, serving two tours in Iraq, in 2004 and 2006." However, Whelan "was discharged for bad conduct in 2008 after being convicted of several charges related to larceny."
Apart from US citizenship, Whelan also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports. US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited him at Moscow’s Lefortovo pre-trial detention center on January 2.