Maria Butina: Russian activist pleads guilty in US

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

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, has admitted to engaging in a conspiracy against the US in a federal court in Washington DC.

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

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

She is accused of working with a Russian official and two US citizens.

Her case has no connection with the Mueller inquiry into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election victory of President Donald Trump.

Ms Butina is reportedly co-operating with investigators. Prosecutors expect the deal will give them information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in US politics.

What were 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 asfabricated”.

In an interview with CNN, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ms Butina had beentorturedin detention without providing any evidence.

Ms Butina, who has been held in an adult detention centre in Virginia, was seen by the Russian government as apolitical prisoner”, the official added.

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