AUBURN HILLS, MICH. - A Michigan man who has been imprisoned in Russia on spying charges for nearly a year has lost his job with an automotive parts supplier in a corporate restructuring, a move his brother has denounced.
Paul Whelan was arrested Dec. 28, 2018, in a Moscow hotel while visiting for a friend's wedding. The Russian government charged him with espionage and has repeatedly extended his detention while he awaits trial on charges that carry a sentence of up to 20 years. Whelan has denied the charges.
Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran, had been director of global security for BorgWarner, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, but that role was eliminated last Friday in a corporate restructuring announced in April, BorgWarner spokeswoman Kathy Graham said.
Whelan's twin, David Whelan, told The Detroit News in an email Wednesday that his brother's health has been deteriorating and that his life has "unraveled" as he became "collateral damage in the Russian Federation's geopolitical gamesmanship."
The firing "increases the strain on our family's ability to keep some semblance of his former life ready for when he returns home," Whelan continued.
Paul Whelan, 49, started with BorgWarner in January 2017 and oversaw security at facilities around the world. BorgWarner notified Whelan's representatives of his termination while he remains in Russian custody, Graham said.
Whelan spent about a decade cultivating friends and contacts in Russia, building connections on a social media platform with men who have ties to the military. Several of them said Whelan never seemed sinister, merely someone with an interest in Russia and a desire for pen pals.
Whelan, of Novi, Michigan, also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship. He was born in Canada to British parents.
Congress has demanded that the Russian government present evidence against Whelan or release him. The U.S. Embassy said requests to send a doctor to examine him have been rejected.
David Whelan said the federal government's involvement is crucial.
"Without action in Washington, D.C., to secure his freedom, his life will continue to unravel and Paul will end up spending many more months as a political prisoner of the Russian government." he said.