American accused of spying in Russia speaks for first time since being jailed

PHOTO: Suspected spy Paul Whelan attends a hearing of the extension his arrest at the Lefortovo District Court in Moscow, Feb. 22, 2019.PlaySergei Ilnitsky/EPA via Shutterstock
WATCH American detained in Russia speaks to reporters in court

A Moscow court on Friday extended the detention of Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine held on espionage charges in Russia, for at least three additional months.

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Whelan spoke with reporters for the first time in court, telling them he was feeling "fine."

The Lefortovsky District Court ordered Whelan held until at least May 28, allowing investigators to keep collecting evidence in his case.

Speaking from a cage in the courthouse in which he was being held, Whelan told reporters he was not receiving letters from his family. Asked by ABC News if he wanted to say anything, Whelan said he didn’t think the guards would allow him to as they pushed ABC News' camera away from him.

It is the first time reporters have heard Whelan speak since he was arrested in late December. At his first court appearance in January, Whelan appeared in a glass cage and did not respond to shouted questions.

At today’s hearing, he was more animated, speaking with reporters but largely declining to comment on anything. He told a BBC News reporter that he was feeling "fine" but declined to comment on the case against him.

The judge set Whelan's next hearing for the end of May.

Whelan is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, where he has been kept since Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, arrested him in late December.

Russia has still not provided any details on the charges against Whelan, but his lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov has said that Whelan is accused of receiving a memory card with classified materials on it. Zherebenkov has said Whelan was unaware that the card contained secret materials and believed he was simply receiving photos and tourist information from his travels in Russia. Whelan intends to plead not guilty, according to Zherebenkov.

At the court, Zherebenkov told ABC News Whelan had not expressed discontent about his treatment in the detention center.

“Paul, as a former soldier, does not complain a lot," Zherebenkov said. "When we ask him what do you want, he asks for nothing. He treats everything with humor and understanding."

Zherebenkov said Whelan would appeal the ruling.

PHOTO: Suspected spy Paul Whelan attends a hearing of the extension his arrest at the Lefortovo District Court in Moscow, Feb. 22, 2019 Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA via Shutterstock
Suspected spy Paul Whelan attends a hearing of the extension his arrest at the Lefortovo District Court in Moscow, Feb. 22, 2019

Whelan’s family have said the charges against him are untrue. They have called on the U.S., Ireland, U.K. and Canada to assist with his release. Whelan holds citizenship in all four countries.

Former U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe Whelan has likely been set up by the Russian security services and the U.K. and Canada have both warned Russia against using Whelan as a pawn.

Whelan’s arrest came shortly after the case of Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who pleaded guilty in the U.S. to acting as a Russian influence agent. Some observers have linked Whelan’s detention with Butina, speculating that Russia may be hoping to trade Whelan for her or other Russians held in America.