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Spy swap in the offing? Exchange for Whelan to be considered after sentence, says lawyer

The exchange may include Russian nationals Viktor Bout or Konstantin Yaroshenko incarcerated in American prisons, according to the attorney

MOSCOW, June 15./TASS/. A deal to swap US citizen Paul Whelan, accused of espionage and sentenced to 16 years behind bars on Monday, for Russian nationals Viktor Bout or Konstantin Yaroshenko incarcerated in American prisons, will be looked into after the sentence comes into effect, Whelan’s attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov told TASS on Monday.

"The issue of exchanging [Bout or Yaroshenko] for Whelan is being discussed. Paul wants to appeal (the verdict), and we will do this. The swap will be looked into after the sentence comes into effect, possibly after the decision of the court of appeal," the lawyer said.

According to him, the defense had expected a guilty verdict and a long prison term. "Back at the investigation stage, he repeatedly received suggestions to plead guilty and be swapped. However, he wanted to seek acquittal himself. On June 22, I myself and a colleague of mine will visit Whelan in prison and we will make a final decision regarding an appeal," he added.

Zherebenkov said that during the trial, the defense had supplied sufficient proof of Whelan’s innocence. In fact, it became absolutely clear during the trial that Whelan’s detention was the result of a provocation. "The person who handed him the USB stick with the allegedly secret materials, in fact did not have them," he stressed.

Whelan’s second lawyer, Olga Karlova, said that Paul felt okay after his recent surgery. "Whelan felt very bad at the end of May, and he was rushed to Sklifosovsky [Research Institute of Emergency Medicine]. For secrecy reasons, he was named differently there. Now he feels okay," she added.

On Monday, the Moscow City Court found Whelan guilty of spying against Russia and sentenced him to 16 years in prison.

US citizen Paul Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian and Irish citizenship, was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on December 28, 2018 in Moscow while on an alleged spy mission. A criminal investigation was launched against him on espionage charges carrying a punishment of up to 20 years behind bars.

Whelan denied all the charges. His defense insisted that the case had been fabricated, while Whelan’s activity in Russia was of a strictly humanitarian nature.

Russian inmates seen as potential candidates for Whelan swap

Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was convicted in the United States in September 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was clandestinely transferred to the United States from Liberia, where he had been arrested in May 2010. Agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration operating under cover allegedly exposed Yaroshenko’s criminal intention to transport a large batch of cocaine. He pleaded not guilty, condemning his arrest as a provocation and the whole case as an utter set-up.

Viktor Bout was detained in Thailand’s capital Bangkok on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by a local court based on a US request. He was charged with illegally supplying weapons to a group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which Washington designated as a terrorist organization. In 2010, Bout was extradited to the United States. In April 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $15 million.