Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke for the first time Wednesday about a U.S. national imprisoned on Russian charges of espionage.
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Speaking with journalists in Brazil, Pompeo confirmed that the U.S. intends to speak with Whelan and learn more about the facts of the case. "With respect to Mr. Whelan who's being held, we are hopeful with in the next hours we will get consular access to see him and learn more," he said. Pompeo is in Brazil for the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Should the evidence warrant, Pompeo was unequivocal that the U.S. would seek Whelan's release. "If the detention is not appropriate," Pompeo warned, "we will demand his immediate return."
Whelan works at BorgWarner, a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, according to a statement from the company. He assesses and advises on the security of job sites, according to Whelan's twin brother David Whelan. "My understanding is that he was responsible for looking at the physical security of sites for his employer, to make sure that things couldn't be stolen or be broken into, to remove the opportunities for people to have access to things they shouldn't have access to," his brother told CNN.
Prior to Pompeo's comments, a State Department spokesman confirmed Russian officials had "formally notified" the United States of the charges. "Russia's obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it. Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to provide at this time," read a statement.
Whelan is a Michigan native who served as a U.S. Marine. He frequently visited Russia, including during military leave, according to his brother. If convicted, he faces 10-20 years in Russian prison.