MOSCOW, June 15 (RAPSI) – Former American marine Paul Whelan sentenced to 16 years in high-security prison for espionage against Russia may be exchanged for businessman Victor But or pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko serving jail sentences in the United States, Whelan’s attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov stated Monday.

The Foreign Intelligence and the Federal Security Service have been discussing the swap possibility since December, according to the lawyer. 

On Monday, the Moscow City Court convicted Whelan of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years behind bars. The hearing was held behind closed doors. A prosecutor earlier demanded 18 years in prison for Whelan.

In late March, the Moscow City Court extended detention of Whelan until September 13.

Earlier, according to his defense, Whelan was found sane.

Whelan is a citizen of the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Great Britain. He is the chief safety officer of BorgWarner, an American worldwide automotive industry components and parts supplier. The foreigner was arrested in late 2018 during “a spying mission”, according to the Federal Security Service. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

The Foreign Ministry of Russia reported earlier that papers classified as state secret were seized from Whelan during his arrest on December 28. His lawyer confirmed this information.

According to Zherebenkov, his client came to Russia in December 2018 to attend the wedding of his acquaintance. He received a flash drive containing culturological information he was interested in, including photos and videos. However, there was no secret data on it, the attorney said.

Whelan was not able to use the USB-drive as he was arrested on December 2018, the lawyer added.