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‘Astonished’: US prisoner’s family hit out at Biden for calling Brittney Griner’s wife

Sister of former US marine called for ‘functioning process’

Gino Spocchia
Thursday 07 July 2022 12:22 BST
Brittney Griner's wife says she will not be quiet any more

The family of Paul Whelan have said they are “astonished” that US President Joe Biden has not spoken to them personally while he remains detained in Russia.

Elizabeth Whelan, the 49-year-old’s sister, said the Biden administration had not spoken with them since May in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

Hours earlier, Mr Biden said he and vice president Kamala Harris had spoken with the wife of the WNBA star Britney Griner amid her trial in Moscow and calls from her supporters for her release.

Ms Whelan said she did not ”begrudge” how much help the White House had given the Griners, but admitted she was “astonished” by the lack of process available to the former US marine’s family.

“It’s really wonderful they have resources far beyond what our family does,” Ms Whelan said. “Our concern is why the outreach to some families and not others?”

“I was astonished to hear about this call and it did make me wonder,” she continued. “Should we be pushing for a meeting with the president? Is that what it’s going to take to bring my brother home?”

Paul Whelan was arrested on spying allegations in December 201 (Moscow News Agency)

“What I would really like to see is a functioning process that didn’t require that,” she added.

The call between Mr Biden and Cherelle Griner came four months after the Phoenix Mercury player was arrested on allegations of carrying hashish oil at one of Moscow’s airports.

In a letter sent by Griner to Mr Biden in recent days, the WNBA star said she feared she would spend her whole life in prison in Russia if she is convicted on drug charges.

Griner also appealed for the Biden administration not to “forget” her case or those of others, including Mr Whelan, who remains imprisoned.

Britney Griner’s trial is underway in Moscow (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The former US marine was arrested on spying allegations in December 2018 and was not included in a prisoner swap earlier this year when another US citizen, Trevor Reed, was freed by Russia.

The US has designated all of the arrests as wrongful and has said it is working to secure Griner and Mr Whelan’s release.

Responding to a letter sent by Mr Biden to Griner about working to secure her release, Russian authorities said on Thursday that "this kind of correspondence does not help".

The country’s deputy foreign minister added that organising a prisoner swap between the US and Russia would be a challenge, although it remains the most likely means of allowing both Griner and Mr Whelan to leave the country.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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