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About sharing image copyrightGetty Images In Room of Moscow's Metropol hotel, Paul Whelan was getting dressed for a friend's wedding when Russian intelligence officers burst in. The American disappeared without trace for three days until his twin stumbled across a news report announcing that his brother had been charged with espionage. That was New Year's Eve and the start of a case that would embroil four western governments and pile pressure on relations with Russia that had already sunk to a post-Cold War low.

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He'd prepare a speech for each session, writing it out on a sheet of paper vetted and stamped by the prison censors.

Its s document the trip with shots of tourist spots and captions laden with exclamation marks. He's the kindest soul!

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Some do have clear military connections - including photographs in uniform - though not all, and no-one who replied to my messages had seen any reason to doubt Whelan's motives. Americam was noticeable, one such report said, that he chose only to befriend men and not "pretty Russian girls".

It's possible he rusdian introduced his parents to "Dmitry" on their trip to Russia, they can't be sure. The former US Marine - who also has British, Irish and Canadian citizenship - has always insisted on his innocence, and in court this week he described himself the victim of "greasy, slimy Russian politics". At the time, one ambassador told me the move had hit Moscow's spying capacity hard.

The defence team said the Russian had requested a loan to buy a gift for his wife, as part of his trap. But the espionage case was based entirely on Whelan's ties to one officer, with all the evidence gathered in shortly before his arrest.

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A year later, just days before his arrest, Mr Whelan took "Dmitry" and another man for Christmas dinner at a restaurant opposite his hotel. But the same is presumably true in reverse. His website describes his "respect and admiration" for three Naval Academy graduates who'd just ed the Marines.

Watching from the wooden courtroom benches, socially distanced and in medical facemasks, russiab the ambassadors of the US, UK and Canada. It was noticeable, one such report said, that he chose only to befriend men and not "pretty Russian girls". It was with this scandal breaking behind the scenes, that he first headed for Moscow.

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In Whelan's case, there's the added nuance that his defence team were appointed and paid for by the Russian state. Filming was barred at all amerivan hearings to stop the press capturing any more protests.

After the Salisbury poisoning in earlymore than Russian diplomats identified as intelligence agents were expelled from embassies around the russain in a co-ordinated act of protest. State TV crews, hovering for their shots in the hallway, were already referring to the accused man as "the American spy". That first day, though - in a cage, with a dozen cameras trained on him - he looked tense and spoke little.

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The FSB was already dripping details of the case it would make in court. Although we were only allowed to attend for the opening remarks, we managed to snatch several conversations with him. In one exchange during his early trip to Moscow, a relative joked: "Don't get into any trouble we can't get you out of, haha! That year he told a Marines news site that he'd taken advantage zmerican a programme that funded a two-week break abroad for those on long deployments.

The lawyer warns that the FSB is the "mightiest secret service, not only in Russia," and uses its own experts to examine any evidence for the court. He's someone I've known for ten years," he revealed for the first time. I did not commit a crime," Whelan said, telling me that a friend ajerican turned-up at his hotel that evening unannounced.

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Almost 18 months later, Whelan has been convicted of spying - receiving Russian state secrets - after a short trial conducted entirely behind closed doors. The judge then turned to address the defendant, who was standing in a glass cage guarded by two FSB security officers in black balaclavas.

He snapped a picture of his guests, "Dmitry" smiling with a glass of wine and his fork raised over a juicy steak. Almost 18 months later, Whelan has been convicted of spying - receiving Russian state secrets - after a short trial conducted entirely behind closed doors. Although we were only allowed to attend for the opening remarks, russizn managed to snatch several conversations with him. Whelan had plumped to visit Russia, explaining that, for a "single man like me" the scheme was "an opportunity to travel throughout the world…and experience the diversity of culture".

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One replied to tell me he'd been a student and supermarket night-guard when the American first made contact. He mostly represents Russians accused of selling secrets to the West and says the of such cases has grown ificantly since the political climate turned cold again in The website content does support later descriptions of Paul Whelan by contacts, colleagues and family as an enthusiastic world traveller who "made friends pretty much everywhere" and had an interest in Russian culture.

So when Whelan's plight became public, there was speculation that he could be the human collateral.

The American refused and as his time in custody was extended repeatedly, he gradually grew bolder in court. There were s of problems even earlier.