UPDATE (3-15-19): The U.S. Embassy in Russia is asking why Russian officials have yet to show proof of Paul Whelan's alleged crimes, but they are doing it via social media.
“Shortly after U.S. citizen Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow, Russian officials said they caught him red-handed,” Andrea Kalan, an embassy spokeswoman, wrote on social media.
“It’s been more than two months now, and we haven’t seen a shred of evidence implicating Paul Whelan. Why haven’t they produced it?”
U.S. diplomats were due to visit Whelan at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison on Friday.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the U.S. criticism.
Paul Whelan, the former Marine detained in Moscow on charges of espionage, says he is not being treated well in prison, and his family says Russian officials are holding up documentation that would allow them to help him.
“This is a kangaroo court,” Whelan, 49, told reporters from inside a glass enclosure in a Moscow court, where a judge upheld a decision to keep the former Marine behind bars through late May.
A citizen of four countries — Ireland, Canada and Britain, in addition to the United States — Whelan receives consular visits, but they are heavily restricted.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan said on March 11 that officials would visit the 49-year-old "later this week."
Whelan -- who holds U.S., Irish, Canadian, and British citizenship -- was arrested on December 28 in Moscow and charged with spying. His pretrial detention runs until May 28.
Whelan’s family says the investigator in the case is preventing his signed Privacy Act Waiver from reaching U.S. officials, hindering them from lobbying on his behalf and publicly disclosing case details. The embassy also says the family has been denied the power of attorney, despite the correct documentation being provided to prison officials.
“It seems fairly clear, although of course we don’t know, that he is being purposely isolated so that some sort of confession can be contrived and the Russians can save face,” Ryan Fayhee, a former Justice Department lawyer working pro bono for the Whelan family, told The Washington Post.
The FSB still has not given any details about what Whelan allegedly did.
Vladimir Zherebenkov said Thursday that his client had been set up by a member of the FSB when he was unwittingly handed a flash drive containing “state secrets.”
“He was framed,” Zherebenkov told reporters outside the courtroom.
Fayhee said Zherebenkov is clearly not acting in Whelan’s interest. “This is what is obvious, and troubling to the family,” the lawyer said.
“The Russians need to tell us what he did, what specifically happened. Otherwise, it’s unlawful,” Fayhee added.
A visibly vexed Whelan paced as the judge delivered his decision, before interrupting the Russian-language ruling to say, in a raised voice, “I don’t even have a translator!”
Zherebenkov speaks no English, but fellow defense attorney Olga Karlova hurried over to relay the judge’s words.
Dressed in a blue sweater over a blue-and-white checked shirt, Whelan looked composed, yet glum. When asked whether he had access to any English-language reading material, Whelan mouthed “none.”
On March 5, Whelan turned 49 in his cell at the notorious Lefortovo Prison on the outskirts of Moscow. None of his family’s 100-plus pieces of mail, including birthday cards, have reached him.
“No one in prison knew it was my birthday. There was no cake, no nothing,” Whelan said.
Whelan's detainment came weeks after a Russian woman, Maria Butina, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has denied that Butina is a Russian agent and has organized a social-media campaign to secure her release.
In the past, Russia has arrested foreigners with the aim of trading prisoners with other countries.
Zherebenkov has also said that his client is innocent and suggested that Russian officials may be trying to use him in an exchange for Butina.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has rejected that scenario.