The Marine Corps found Paul Whelan, the American citizen detained by Russia on espionage charges, guilty of attempting to steal more than $10,000 worth of currency from the U.S. government while deployed to Iraq in 2006 and bouncing nearly $6,000 worth of checks around the same time, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.
The details of the charges against Whelan from a special court-martial that resulted in his discharge for bad conduct two years later add to an increasingly complex picture of the 48-year-old former Marine, whom Russian officials have accused of spying. His case grew more perplexing on Friday after Ireland became the fourth nation to acknowledge him as a citizen and seek consular access.
Since his arrest last week in Moscow, Whelan has drawn international attention to his complex journey from the Marine Corps Reserve to a detention cell in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo Prison. People who served alongside Whelan said he was learning Russian and traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg on vacation during the same deployment in which the Marine Corps accused him of attempted larceny.
The Marines have not provided any additional information about the circumstances surrounding Whelan's crimes.
Whelan served as an administrative chief in the Marines -- a job akin to office management that would have given him access to certain sensitive systems, likely including those the service uses to issue orders and hand out awards.
In addition to convicting him of attempted larceny and bouncing checks, the Marine Corps also found Whelan guilty of falsely using another person's Social Security number to sign in to the online training system Marines access to complete courses that can advance their rank and pay. The record of conviction says Whelan "proctored" an account on the system without permission.
The Marines charged him with fraudulently opening electronic proctor accounts on the system, completing multiple examinations and grading his own examinations, which could have resulted broadly in advancements in rank and pay. The special court-martial, however, found him innocent of that charge.
The special court-martial also found him guilty of willfully failing to report his leave on three occasions and going absent from his unit twice, in one case for two days.
The court knocked him down two pay grades, restricted him to places of lodging, eating and worship for 60 days and discharged him from the Marine Corps for bad conduct. He appealed the ruling but the service upheld the conviction.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, bouncing checks is a violation of an article designed to uphold discipline and good order and prevent conduct that brings discredit to the service. Broadly speaking, the military seeks to prevent officers from having outstanding debts that could offer adversaries leverage in espionage or blackmail.
Whelan's brother David, who has denied knowledge of the court-martial, urged Congress and the State Department to help secure his brother's release. He expressed gratitude to the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, for his assistance.
"Our focus remains on ensuring that Paul is safe, well treated, has a good lawyer, and is coming home," his family said in a statement.
The details of Whelan's convictions in the Marine Corps come as Moscow copes with the diplomatic fallout of detaining a man who appears to be a citizen of four countries.
In addition to demands by President Donald Trump's administration for greater details on Russia's claims against Whelan, three other nations are now in the mix and offering potential assistance.
Whelan also carried passports from Canada, where he was born, as well as from Britain and Ireland. Whelan obtained the two European passports through family lineage.
Both Britain and Ireland are now seeking consular access to Whelan, who is being held in a detention facility on the outskirts of Moscow.
Britain and Russia's relationship sharply deteriorated last year after a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in England with a nerve agent and spent months recovering. British authorities have blamed Russia for carrying out the attack -- an assertion Moscow denies.
The minimal amount of information provided by Russia -- where many offices are closed until after the Russian Orthodox Church marks Christmas on Monday -- only adds to the intrigue. There has been no word from the Kremlin on Whelan's arrest.
Whelan could spend between 10 and 20 years in prison if convicted of the espionage charge.
Whelan's family has maintained he is innocent, and that the Michigan resident and former policeman was in Moscow for a friend's wedding when he was arrested by members of Russia's security services in an upscale hotel not far from the Kremlin.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington would demand Whelan's release if his detention is not "appropriate."
A Section on 01/05/2019
Print Headline: Details emerge of court-martial of former Marine accused by Russia of spying