• U.S.

Who Is Paul Whelan, the American Detained in Russia for Alleged Spying?

3 minute read

New details have emerged about Paul Whelan, the 48-year-old Novi, Michigan, resident who is facing 10 to 20 years in Russian prison on charges of espionage.

While U.S. court records and the accounts of Whelan’s family and workplace cannot clear him from any suspicion of spying, they depict him as a fairly ordinary American – an Iraq war veteran, former sheriff’s deputy and corporate security expert who, his brother says is a loyal friend and family member.

“We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being,” the Whelan family said in a statement that his twin brother, David Whelan, posted on Twitter. “His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected.”

David Whelan later told CNN about that he learned that his brother, who had been in Russia for a wedding, had been detained from a news story.

According to David Whelan, Paul Whelan served multiple tours in Iraq as a marine and is a corporate security expert. Paul Whelan had made several trips to Russia in the past, his brother believes that he was attending the wedding to help other guests navigate Moscow.

David Whelan told CNN that his brother is a helpful sort of person.

“Paul’s a kind soul, he’s very generous, he’s notorious among my kids for his huge belly laugh,” he said.

He added that his brother is a highly capable individual, who has served in Iraq and worked in law enforcement.

In court records from 2013, Paul Whelan testified to working as a corporate security expert for over a decade. At the time, Whelan was working as a senior manager of global security and investigations for Kelly Security Services, he testified. He said that he was responsible for looking into accusations of theft, fraud, sexual harassment and workplace violence.

Transportation technology company BorgWarner Inc. confirmed in a statement that Whelan is currently the company’s director of global security.

“He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world,” a BorgWarner spokesperson said in a statement.

Between 1990 and 2008, Whelan also served several tours in Iraq as an active-duty reservist, he testified.

Whelan’s future, however, remains uncertain. David Whelan told CNN that he is appealing to U.S. officials to push for his brother’s release. He has also been in contact with State Department officials, who say that they are working to secure a meeting between Whelan and U.S. embassy officials in Russia.

The State Department declined to comment about the case, but confirmed that they have been informed about Whelan’s detention by Russian authorities. A departmental spokesperson said that Whelan is assured access to the consular authorities under the Vienna Convention.

“We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com