MOSCOW — The family of Paul Whelan, a security director at auto supplier BorgWarner, who was detained here on suspicion of espionage, said he was in Russia for a wedding.
Whelan, in charge of global security for the U.S. supplier and a former marine, hasn’t been in touch since his Dec. 28 arrest, his family said in a statement posted Tuesday by his brother David on Twitter.
“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being,” the family said. “His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected.”
Whelan was arrested “during an espionage operation,” Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, said on Monday. He faces a sentence of as long as 20 years in prison if found guilty of spying.
“We are hopeful within the next hours we will get consular access to see him and get a chance to learn more,” U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday. “We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he’s been accused of and if the detention is not appropriate we will demand his immediate return.”
The detention came two weeks after Maria Butina, a Russian gun enthusiast, pleaded guilty in the U.S. to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent. Following her deal with prosecutors, in which she faces a maximum sentence of five years, President Vladimir Putin said at his annual press conference that Russia wouldn’t “arrest innocent people simply to exchange them for someone else later on.”
Moscow and NATO countries have routinely conducted spy exchanges in the past, including the swap of 10 Russian sleeper agents for four alleged double agents in 2010.
BorgWarner said in a statement it has been in touch with the U.S. government to help Whelan, who oversees security at its Michigan facilities and at other locations around the world. The company does not have any facilities in Russia but has supplied Russian truckmaker Kamaz PJSC with technology for over 15 years.
The statement read: “BorgWarner learned of the arrest of our employee Paul Whelan by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) from news reports published Dec. 31, 2018. We can confirm that Mr. Whelan currently serves as the company’s director, global security. He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world.
“BorgWarner has been in contact with the relevant U.S. Government authorities in order to help our employee and the U.S. government. We ask that any further inquiries regarding this issue be directed to the U.S. State Department.”