Russian in US spy case pleads guilty

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-46558392

Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, August 18 2018Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Maria Butina has been held in an adult detention centre in Virginia since July

A Russian woman accused in the US of acting as an agent for the Kremlin to infiltrate political groups has pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.

Gun rights activist Maria Butina, 30, admitted a single count of conspiracy at a court in Washington DC.

She allegedly tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an effort to influence US policies in favour of Moscow.

Ms Butina initially pleaded not guilty. She has been in custody since July.

She has also agreed to co-operate with investigators. Prosecutors expect the deal will give them information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in US politics.

Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimates that she could face up to six months in prison, Reuters news agency reports. She is being held at an adult detention centre in Virginia.

The case has no connection with the Mueller inquiry into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to secure victory for Donald Trump.

Who is Maria Butina?

Born in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul in 1988, according to her Facebook page, she has enjoyed using weapons ever since she was a child, picking up a gun for the first time at the age of 10.

She founded a group called the Right to Bear Arms and called for the sale of short-barrelled firearms to civilians to be made legal.

In 2012 he became a life member of the powerful NRA and began travelling to the US for its conventions. In 2015 she attended a Trump campaign event in Las Vegas, asking the presidential candidate about his views on US sanctions against Russia.

By 2016 she had a student visa to study for a Master’s degree at American University in Washington DC.

What are the accusations against her?

Federal prosecutors have claimed that Ms Butina was directed by a senior Russian official to infiltrate conservative political groups, including an unnamed pro-gun lobbying organisation that is presumed to be the NRA, which is close to Mr Trump’s Republican Party.

One of the two Americans cited in the case has been identified in US media as Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based conservative political activist who was dating Ms Butina. He is listed in public records as being 56 years old.

Media reports identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was targeted with US sanctions.

The Russian government has previously described the case as “fabricated”.

In an interview with CNN, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ms Butina had been “tortured” in detention – without providing any evidence – and that the Russian government considered her a “political prisoner”.

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