May 3, 2019 — Hughes Hubbard is representing the family of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan on a pro bono basis in efforts to free him from a Moscow prison after he was detained four months ago on suspicion of espionage.
Whelan, 49, arrived in Russia on Dec. 22 to attend a retired fellow Marine's wedding and was arrested in his Moscow hotel on Dec. 28. His visa was sponsored by BorgWarner Inc., a U.S. auto parts manufacturer, where he worked as global security director. Since his arrest, Whelan has been held without bail at the formerly KGB-run Lefortovo detention center in Moscow.
"An American citizen has been detained and arrested without charge. It's exactly the same thing as essentially a hostage situation, which requires the same resources," Ryan Fayhee, who is leading the pro bono effort, told Foreign Policy in an April 16 article.
The Whelan family retained HHR in January after a Russian judge refused to release Whelan on bail after a brief hearing. Whelan's Russian attorney, Vladimir Zherebenkov, was appointed by the Federal Security Service and speaks no English. The Whelan family was also frustrated that, after strong statements in support of Whelan early on, U.S. officials have not done more to get him released.
Fayhee told Yahoo News that he was led to work with the Whelans because "they just frankly weren't getting what they needed." Fayhee said the safety of Americans overseas in the future is at risk if Russia is allowed to detain Whelan without consequence. If the U.S. doesn't condemn Russian aggression, "it sets a very, very dangerous precedent," he said in a March 15 article.
Whelan, also a citizen of Ireland, Canada and Britain, receives consular visits, but they are heavily restricted. Fayhee told Politico that the Russians would not allow a U.S. consular officer to give Whelan the legal paperwork needed to retain an independent lawyer or let Whelan sign a Privacy Act waiver so that State Department officials could discuss his case publicly.
"Paul is being held without the minimum standards that would comport with his rights," Fayhee said in a March 1 article. "It's very clear to us they're keeping him isolated to encourage a confession of some sort."
Zherebenkov, Whelan's Russian attorney, claims that Whelan was set up by a member of the FSB when he was unwittingly handed a flash drive containing "state secrets." But his statements have only further frustrated Whelan's family.
Fayhee told The Washington Post that Zherebenkov is clearly not acting in Whelan's interest. "This is what is obvious, and troubling to the family," Fayhee said. "The Russians need to tell us what he did, what specifically happened. Otherwise, it's unlawful."
U.S. officials believe Whelan did nothing wrong. "I don't think there's a case there," Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "If there's a case, I think the evidence would have been brought forward by now. Let's move on and quit playing these games."
In addition to Fayhee, Aleea Stanton and legal analyst Katie McRae are working on this matter.