Lawyer for Novi man accused of spying in Russia says he had classified docs

A Michigan man accused of spying on the Russians will stay in jail for the time being. 

The Moscow City Court rejected Paul Whelan's attempt to appeal his arrest Tuesday. He'll be kept behind bars at least until the end of February now. He's been in custody since Dec. 28, 2018. 

Whelan, a former U.S. Marine from Novi, Mich., was kept in a glass cage and did not speak to reporters Tuesday during his hearing. 

Prosecutors claimed Whelan was caught with classified information. Whelan's own lawyer confirmed he had a flash drive, but said Whelan accepted it thinking it only contained travel recommendations. 

The lawyer said that Whelan was a frequent visitor to Russia and that he asked an unnamed person to email him something about travel around the country. Whelan reportedly was not able to download it and then asked that person to put it on a flash-drive.

"He was expecting to see on the flash drive some personal information like pictures or videos, something like that, about that person's previous trips around Russia," Vladimir Zherebenkov told reporters. "We don't know how the materials that contain state secrets ended up there."

The lawyer said the American was detained before he could open the files.

Zherebenkov also said it was not clear what has happened to the person who reportedly gave the flash drive to Whelan.

Zherebenkov said that the investigators have not yet disclosed which country he is accused of spying for. Whelan holds U.S., Canadian, British and Irish citizenships. The 48-year-old works as the global security director for a U.S. automobile parts manufacturer. 

Whelan has denied being a spy and said he was simply in the country to attend a friend's wedding. The arrest raised speculation that he could be swapped for one of the Russians held in the U.S., such as gun rights activist Maria Butina, who has pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent in the U.S.

If convicted, Whelan faces up to 20 years in a Russian prison. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report 

FOX 2 reported on this story from Southfield, Mich.