A Russian woman has been charged with infiltrating US political organisations at the direction of a senior Kremlin official.
Maria Butina, 29, a Russian citizen who lives in Washington DC, has appeared in court after being arrested in the US capital on 15 July.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement: “According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank.
“This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.
“The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organisations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The statement says Butina allegedly entered and resided in the United States on a student visa without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.
“The charges in criminal complaints are merely allegations and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement continues.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years.
One of the agencies Butina is accused of infiltrating is the National Rifle Association (NRA).
It comes just hours after US President Donald Trump backed his Russian counterpart’s denial that there was any involvement or meddling in the American elections.
After Mr Trump made his comments, Director of national intelligence Dan Coats said: “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
On Friday it was announced a dozen Russians have been charged with hacking Democratic Party emails during the 2016 US presidential election.
Moments after the news of Butina’s arrest broke, Mr Trump tweeted from aboard the Air Force One en route back to America following his Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin.
“As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!” he wrote.
As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018