MOSCOW (Reuters) – Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who Russia is trying on espionage charges, was taken from prison on Thursday to undergo an emergency hernia operation, his brother and the U.S. embassy said.
Whelan, 50, a U.S. national who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, has been held in Russia for 17 months and had complained of a hernia and other health issues in custody. He was detained in what he says was a set-up in December 2018.
Russia informed the U.S. embassy that Whelan had undergone the surgery on Thursday and the U.S. ambassador spoke to him on Friday once he had returned to his prison, embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross said.
She accused Russia’s authorities of having denied Whelan necessary medical care until now, despite what she said were repeated requests to allow him to be seen by an outside English-speaking doctor.
“Russian authorities waited until #PaulWhelan’s condition was life-threatening to provide him medical attention. That is unacceptable and dangerous,” Ross wrote on Twitter.
Whelan’s brother David was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the operation had been on a hernia and that Whelan had experienced severe stomach pain late on Thursday.
Whelan has pleaded not guilty to the charge of spying. But Russia says he was caught red-handed and prosecutors have asked the court to jail him for 18 years. A verdict is expected on June 15.
His trial, which the United States has called a mockery of justice based on spurious charges, has been closed to the public because Moscow says the case is classified.
The U.S. ambassador, John Sullivan, said last month Whelan had potentially life threatening health issues that required medical attention, but that the embassy had not been allowed to have its own doctors visit Whelan.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Tom Brown)