Defense witnesses in the trial of Paul Whelan, who is charged with espionage, have not shown up to a court hearing because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said that three defense witnesses did not come to the courtroom as the trial resumed on May 18.
The 50-year-old Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. Prosecutors claim that a flash disc in his possession contained classified information. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Whelan vehemently denies the allegations against him, calling them political in nature, and has accused guards of mistreating him. The former U.S. Marine has said he traveled to Moscow to attend a wedding.
“Because of the coronavirus, the witness did not show up. We expected that three [witnesses] would be here today, but nobody came. I called one of them and he explained that he had been in contact [with a coronavirus-infected person] and is currently in quarantine. I think many are uneager to come because they are in self-isolation and do not want to play Russian roulette and risk their lives,” Zherebenkov said.
He added that the trial was adjourned until May 20.
The trial is being held behind closed doors because the evidence includes classified materials and because of measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.