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Moscow Court Extends Detention Of Former U.S. Marine

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Paul Whelan is seen on a video screen during a court hearing in Moscow on November 19.

A Moscow court has extended the detention of the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan until March 29 on espionage charges, Interfax news agency reported on December 24.

Whelan, who holds the joint U.S., British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship, was detained by Russian intelligence officers in his hotel room in Moscow on December 28, 2018.

The court ruling comes a day after a senior U.S. diplomat appealed to Russian authorities to free Whelan, who is accused of spying.

U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman said as he left the Moscow prison where Whelan is being held on December 23 that there was "no evidence and no crime" in the case.

"In a case where there is no evidence and no crime, it's time to have him released," Gorman said, according to Reuters, after a visit to Whelan alongside officials from those other three countries.

Gorman also asked that doctors be allowed to examine Whelan, who reportedly has a medical condition, and that the detainee finally be allowed to speak by telephone with his parents.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross complained that Whelan had not been allowed to speak in court.

"Enough is enough. Let Paul go home," Ross wrote on Twitter on December 24.

Whelan could face a long prison sentence if he is convicted of espionage, although there has been no trial as the investigation reportedly continues.

Russian authorities say they caught Whelan with a flash drive containing classified information. He says he was duped into possessing what he understood to be vacation images.

Whelan's sister Elizabeth said on social media that no credible evidence of a crime had been presented and described what was happening to her brother as part of "a nasty political game."

The case has ratcheted up already tense relations between Moscow and the West.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow earlier this month rejected Russian officials' claim that Whelan was feigning illness and lying about his ill-treatment in custody to draw attention to his case.

Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross said Whelan's health was "deteriorating" and called for an independent medical examination to "clear up" the state of his health, according to a series of tweets she published the same day.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called in a December 10 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for Russia to release Whelan.

With reporting by Reuters
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