Paul Whelan
© REUTERS / Tatyana Makeyeva
Paul Whelan is escorted inside a court building in Moscow.
Paul Whelan, a former US marine currently waiting for trial in Russia on espionage charges became a person of interest for Russian counter-intelligence as early as his first visit in 2007, the daily Kommersant claims.

The 49-year-old corporate security director, who was arrested in Russia last December, is far from being the innocent victim of entrapment that his defense team says he is, the newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources. In fact Whelan was considered suspicious by the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's intelligence agency, more than a decade ago.

Once on Russian soil, the man, who was serving in the US Marine Corps at the time, sought contacts with active and former employees of FSB, the report said. One of his contacts was even given a book by Oleg Kalugin, a disgraced former KGB general, who now lives in exile in the United States. The autobiography was signed by the author.

Whelan's interest in the Russian intelligence community made him a target for surveillance by the FSB. Kommersant sources said the American joked with Russian acquaintances that he too had ties with intelligence services and thus had an acute interest in state secrets.

The trial of Whelan is being held behind closed doors due to national security concerns, so few details are known about the underlying evidence. According to his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, his client was arrested after a friend gave him a USB-stick with classified documents. The lawyer says Whelan thought he was getting photos from a holiday trip he and his friend made together and suggested that he had been framed.

Kommersant sources said that narrative is false and there is a recording made on the day prior to his detention, in which Whelan is heard discussing with the friend what information he wanted to receive. The friend is a serving FSB agent, the newspaper said, and the flash drive had a classified personnel list of one of the agency's units.

Earlier media reports said that in 2008 Whelan was discharged from the marines by a court martial over allegations of insurance fraud. As a civilian he found a job as a security director at BorgWarner, a big Michigan-based car parts manufacturer. The Canadian-born son of British parents also holds citizenship of at least four countries - the US, the UK, Ireland and Canada.