Paul Whelan, 50, has known this since the day of his arrest. During his interrogation, FSB agents, responsible for internal security in Russia, told him: “You will be exchanged. The former American navy, arrested in December 2018 in a hotel near Red Square, will therefore serve as currency. Discussions between the United States and Russia have been going on for several months about it. Except that Moscow posed a condition. Paul Whelan was to be tried first. However, it is done. The American, who also holds Canadian, Irish and British passports, was sentenced by a court in Moscow to 16 years in prison under “severe regime”. A mock trial for an attempt at espionage which the applicant challenges. Whelan arrived in Moscow to go to a wedding. When he got off the plane, he would have accepted a USB key from a “friend”, thinking he would find photos there. According to Russian investigators, on the contrary, it included data on Russian agents.
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In court, from his glass cage, Whelan has brandished a sheet of paper on which he calls for help from the American president and the British, Irish and Canadian prime ministers. Donald Trump has little choice. If he wants to recover Whelan, he knows the names of the three Russian prisoners claimed by Moscow. “These cases arouse our indignation and our anger”, underlined, in February, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Verchinin.
“Lord of War”
At the top of the list, a big size: Viktor Bout, 53 years old. Arrested in Thailand in 2008, the blue-eyed mustache is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. He is the most famous post-Cold War arms dealer. His life even inspired the film Lord of war with Nicolas Cage. Former Russian military intelligence (GRU), he prospered by selling stocks of weapons abandoned in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR. His favorite land? African countries plagued by endless conflicts. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Angola…
The polyglot Viktor Bout, holder of five passports, is everywhere, mobilizing his sixty planes in the service of bloodthirsty dictators, including the Liberian Charles Taylor. And sometimes even in the service of NGOs, or even the United Nations in Somalia. An “ace” of logistics, at the head of three hundred men and who manages to escape several assassination attempts and arrests thanks to his support. Especially in Moscow. He eventually fell into the nets of American services in Bangkok. A place where he is said to have negotiated the sale of surface-to-air missiles to the Colombian Farc rebels.
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Another case: that of Konstantin Yaroshenko, 52, a pilot from Rostov-on-Don, sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison. His name is less known, but the Russian authorities attach great importance to his return. Especially since Yaroshenko, placed in solitary confinement, suffers from fragile health. “I don’t know if I’m going to come out alive,” he recently told his wife on the phone. In Moscow’s eyes, the man would be subjected to unfair treatment. Trapped by a case that would have passed him.
While he lives on thanks to his plane-taxi services, he crosses paths with drug traffickers who offer to transport 4 tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela to Liberia, then to Ghana. Salary offered: $ 5.7 million. He doesn’t have time to take control of his plane. Agents from DEA, the United States drug agency, handcuff members of the network during a preparatory meeting in Liberia. Yaroshenko is on board with the others. Prosecutors in the United States claim records in which the Russian boasts long experience in the transportation of drugs. His lawyers plead his naivety.
‘Pirate’ arrested in Maldives
Last man claimed by Moscow: Roman Seleznev, 35 years old. He is the son of a Russian parliamentarian. And above all a formidable hacker. He is accused of stealing the credit card numbers of 500 American companies and 3,700 financial institutions. Amount of damage: $ 169 million.
His adventure was interrupted after a vacation in the Maldives in 2014. He was stopped by American agents on board the plane which was about to take off for Moscow. It is immediately transferred to another device. Destination: the American island of Guam. He is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence there.