Family concerned about whereabouts of Whelan, American jailed in Russia

FILE PHOTO: Verdict hearing of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, in Moscow

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The brother of Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia, said on Wednesday his family was concerned about his whereabouts as they had not heard from him for days and had received unclear messages from prison staff that he was moved to the prison hospital.

David Whelan, the brother of Paul, said the family did not know where Paul was. Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, is serving 16 years in the Russian region of Mordovia on charges of espionage, which he denies.

The penal colony's staff said Paul was moved to the prison hospital on Nov. 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats. Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move, David Whelan said in an email on Wednesday.

The family has not heard from him since, including on the Nov. 24 Thanksgiving Day holiday, which is highly unusual, David Whelan said. When transferred to the prison's hospital in the past, Paul had always mentioned the move in his phone calls.

"Paul was not complaining of any health conditions that required hospitalization, so has there been an emergency?" David Whelan said in an emailed statement Tuesday, adding that Paul had appeared healthy and well to the diplomats.

"Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at (the penal colony) but he's been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact?"

David Whelan said that the family has not been in contact with the White House, just with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the State Department.

"The U.S. role in Moscow is to take care of Paul's wellbeing and it's hard for them to accomplish that if they don't know where Paul is or what his condition is," he said. "So we usually work through them when there is uncertainty like this."

The State Department said it was aware of reports that Paul Whelan was recently moved to a prison hospital and had been unable to call home. A department spokesperson confirmed consular officers last visited Whelan on Nov. 16.

"Consular officers continue to monitor his case closely," the spokesperson said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, David Whelan said Paul told his family to contact the U.S. Embassy in Moscow if he did not call home for more than three days. When they did so, the consular staff said it had not heard from him either. [

The United States is talking to Russia about a deal to free Whelan and the jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner but Russia has not provided a "serious response" to any of its proposals, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Monday.

Griner was taken this month to a Russian penal colony to serve a nine-year drug sentence after being arrested in February with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She said at her trial she used them to relieve pain from sports injuries and had not meant to break the law.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Lidia Kelly and Elaine Monaghan; writing by Lidia Kelly; editing by Robert Birsel and Bernadette Baum)