Question of a fair trial lingers for Novi man arrested on spying charges in Russia

Paul Whelan, the Detroit area man arrested last week on accusations of spying, has been formally charged in Russia for espionage. The question of how fair his trial will be remains unknown.

Whelan, a 48-year-old corporate security director from the Detroit area, was arrested Friday on espionage charges. The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, hasn't given details of what led to the charges. His family says he was in the country for a wedding but the FSB believes it was a spy mission.

"Paul flew into Moscow on the 22nd of December to be part of that wedding party," his brother David Whelan said. "I'm sure my brother is not a spy."

Although the exact facts of the indictment are not known, Whelan has been to Russia many times.  His brother says he 
posted has posted on a Russian social media site and he received a discharge from the US Marines when he was convicted of several larceny charges in 2008.

"All of us have things in our past that maybe detract from our better selves and that's perhaps why I didn't know about it," David said.

Wayne State University constitutional law professor Robert Sedler says there's likely a reason the country brought the charges against Whelan.
"They wouldn't of brought the prosecution unless they had some bases of doing it," Sedler said.

Professor Sedler has traveled to Russia seven times in his career. He also writes and lectures about the differences
between the Russian and the American judicial system. But can you get a fair trial in Russia?

"It's a hard question to answer," he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. hoped to gain access soon to the former Marine and that "if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return."

Russian news agency Interfax also reported that the US ambassador to Russia met with Whelan and his offered the embassy's assistance.  

Whelan has received a court-appointed attorney, identifed by the Associated Press as Vladimir Zherebenkov. He told The Associated Press he applied for Whelan to be released on bail that would be set at an amount determined later. 

The court would have 15 days after Russia's winter holidays end Jan. 9 to make the decision, he said.

Zherebenkov said he visited Whelan on Wednesday and found him in a "very hopeful" mood.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.