Brother of Metro Detroit native held in Russian prison says family has been in contact

‘Paul has been able to clarify in calls with our parents what happened’

FILE - Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020. A senior Russian diplomat says that Russia and the United States have repeatedly come close to reaching agreement on a prisoner exchange and a deal remains possible before the year's end. The Biden administration long has been trying to negotiate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American jailed in Russia, corporate security executive Paul Whelan, including through a possible prisoner swap with Moscow. (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File) (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency)

The brother of a Metro Detroit native who is being held in Russian prison said he has been in contact with his brother after he was unexpectedly unreachable in November.

“Paul (Whelan) has been able to clarify in calls with our parents what happened,” David Whelan said. “It seems as though the prison committed an own goal, bringing a lot of attention to Paul’s whereabouts for no reason.”

Read: Brother of US man in Russian prison says contact resumed

David Whelan said Paul Whelan and another foreign prisoner were moved with short notice on Nov. 24 and taken to the prison hospital. His brother was at the hospital until Dec. 2.

“When the head doctor came by and asked him why he was there.  He said he didn’t know, and he was immediately sent back to IK-17,” David Whelan said. “Paul warned the prison staff that isolating him on Thanksgiving and over our dad’s birthday would send our family to Defcon 1. A bit of communication would have saved everyone a lot of time. As it turned out, the instant Paul was returned to IK-17, he was called into the prison administration building and told to call home. Paul knew then from the staff’s unusual reaction that what he had predicted had come to pass.”

The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to exchange WNBA star Brittney Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “merchant of death.”

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in August for drug possession after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February.

Paul Whelan is a former Marine who was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. His lawyer said Whelan was handed a flash drive that had classified information on it that he didn’t know about. Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Read: Griner, Whelan families to meet Biden amid US-Russia talks

You can read the full statement from David Whelan below:

“Paul has been able to clarify in calls with our parents what happened.  It seems as though the prison committed an own goal, bringing a lot of attention to Paul’s whereabouts for no reason.

“As we suspected, Paul was not ill.  In fact, despite the Public Monitoring Commission reporting he’d gone for planned, “routine treatment”, he was given no treatment.  And it was unplanned.  In fact, it sounds like a downright shambles.  He and another foreign prisoner at IK-17 were spirited away with about 90 minutes notice on Thanksgiving (11/24), taken to the prison hospital.  Paul then waited there until Friday (12/2), when the head doctor came by and asked him why he was there.  He said he didn’t know, and he was immediately sent back to IK-17.

“Paul was moved because of ongoing Wagner mercenary recruiting from among the prison population.  The IK-17 warden must have been directed to send Paul and the other fellow away.  But Paul said the Wagner recruiters showed up at the prison hospital too, so it was all for nothing.  When Paul returned to IK-17, he related that only 8 prisoners had volunteered, compared to the 115 that volunteered the last time.  Everyone else has a clear picture of what happens to prisoners who go to fight the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.  Perhaps those 8 only watched Russia 1.

“Paul warned the prison staff that isolating him on Thanksgiving and over our dad’s birthday would send our family to Defcon 1.  A bit of communication would have saved everyone a lot of time.  As it turned out, the instant Paul was returned to IK-17, he was called into the prison administration building and told to call home.  Paul knew then from the staff’s unusual reaction that what he had predicted had come to pass.

“Now we go back to the day to day waiting.  The US government has offered the Kremlin a substantial concession.  Someone appointed by President Putin is obstructing the resolution of an exchange based on that concession.  As usual, the Kremlin demands reciprocity and this time the “negotiator” is creating reciprocal cruelty.  It is not just the Whelans and the Griners who will not see their loved ones this Christmas.  If the media is correct, Elizabeta Bout will not see her dad, and Roman Seleznev will not see his mum, Svetlana.  Putin’s appointee is punishing his own countrymen as well as us.  And to what end?

“We’ll have to wait and see.  But I’m so grateful for your help in trying to find Paul.  Hopefully the prison has learned its lesson and is more communicative in the future.”


About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.