DETROIT – The family of a Michigan man convicted of espionage in Russia met with officials with President Joe Biden’s administration.
The family said they’re optimistic about Paul Whelan’s release.
Whelan is looking at spending the next 14 years in a Russian prison, but his family is holding out hope that the new administration can get him home.
The family had an hour-long Zoom call Tuesday with at least 80 people in the State Department, including Antony Blinken.
Those on the call heard about a new law passed in December -- The Levinson Act -- that gives the federal government more tools to implement sanctions to give nations holding American citizens under suspicious circumstances reasons to release them.
“The American government is actually is going to be open about what they can and cannot do to seek the release of our family members,” said Paul Whelan’s brother David.
Paul Whelan was arrested in Russia when he went to attend a wedding in December 2018. Russian security agents claimed he had possession of Zip drive with Russian agent information on it.
Whelan said he had no knowledge of this. He remains in custody in Mordovia, roughly 250 miles southeast of Moscow.
“While Paul has been in prison, there really wasn’t any sort of dialogue, as far as we can tell, between the Russian Federation and the U.S.,” David Whelan said. “That seems possible now. Whether it leads to the release of Paul, I’m not sure but at least the opportunities may be there.”
The family said Paul Whelan has healed from his emergency hernia surgery in 2020, but he is experiencing cold-like symptoms in the drafty Russian prison and is getting over-the-counter medications from fellow inmates to try to fight it off.