US grand jury indicts woman on charges of being Russian agent

WASHINGTON, July 17 (Reuters) - A U.S. grand jury returned an indictment against a Russian woman on Tuesday, and added a charge accusing her of acting as a Russian government agent while developing ties with American citizens and infiltrating political groups.

Maria Butina, who studied at American University in Washington and is a founder of the pro-gun Russian advocacy group Right to Bear Arms, was charged in a criminal complaint on Monday with conspiracy to take actions on behalf of the Russian government.

Tuesday's grand jury indictment added a more serious charge of acting as an agent of the Russian government, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum five-year prison term.

Butina has not been charged with espionage or with being a member of a Russian intelligence service.

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Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks on October 8, 2013 during a press conference in Moscow. - A 29-year-old Russian woman has been arrested for conspiring to influence US politics by cultivating ties with political groups including the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobby. Mariia Butina, whose name is sometimes spelled Maria, was arrested in Washington on July 15, 2018 and appeared in court on July 16, the Justice Department said. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina is shown sitting at a table with a suspected Russian Intel Operative in a restaurant, according to court documents, in a FBI surveillance photo provided July 18, 2018. FBI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. PICTURE OBSCURED AT SOURCE.
A note by accused Russian agent Maria Butina, according to court documents, is shown in this photo provided July 18, 2018. U.S. Government Exhibit/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. PICTURE REDACTED AT SOURCE.
US Marshals check their truck as they wait outside the US District Courthouse in Washington, DC on July 18, 2018. - Maria Butina was scheduled to appear at the court on July 18, 2018, to face charges that she sought to 'infiltrate' the US government. According to a federal indictment, Butina's very public activities masked the work of a 'covert Russian agent' with a plan to spearhead Moscow's influence in President Trump's Republican Party. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Marshals van leaves the garage of the Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC on July 18, 2018. - Maria Butina was scheduled to appear at the court on July 18, 2018, to face charges that she sought to 'infiltrate' the US government. According to a federal indictment, Butina's very public activities masked the work of a 'covert Russian agent' with a plan to spearhead Moscow's influence in President Trump's Republican Party. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Butina, Russian gun rights activist linked to NRA, charged as Kremlin agent. https://t.co/xMMeLvI2UT https://t.co/u3PnALiqx3
Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks on October 8, 2013 during a press conference in Moscow. - A 29-year-old Russian woman has been arrested for conspiring to influence US politics by cultivating ties with political groups including the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobby. Mariia Butina, whose name is sometimes spelled Maria, was arrested in Washington on July 15, 2018 and appeared in court on July 16, the Justice Department said. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Per sources: accused Russian agent Maria Butina was arrested on Sunday because law enforcement feared she was about… https://t.co/0ApzTGcE0z
Russian national Maria Butina has been indicted on two charges, including acting as a foreign agent… https://t.co/Opgf80Mem8
ALEXANDRIA, VA: In this undated handout photo provided by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office, Russian national Maria Butina is seen in a booking photo in Alexandria, Virginia. Butina is awaiting trial on spying charges. (Photo by Alexandria Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)
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She was arrested on Sunday and is scheduled to appear on Wednesday in federal court in Washington, the Justice Department said.

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina, said she was not a Russian agent.

Butina is accused of operating at the direction of a high-level official of the Russian Central Bank who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, the Justice Department said.

Court records did not name the official.

Butina has appeared in numerous photographs on her Facebook page with Alexander Torshin, the deputy head of Russia's Central Bank who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in April.

A person familiar with the matter has told Reuters that Butina worked for him as an assistant. Other media reported on a business relationship between Butina and Torshin.

Torshin did not reply to a request for comment on Monday and the Russian Central Bank declined to comment.

The Justice Department said in its complaint that Butina worked with two unnamed U.S. citizens and the Russian official to try to influence American politics and infiltrate a pro-gun rights organization.

The complaint did not name the group, however photos on her Facebook page showed that she attended events sponsored by the National Rifle Association. The NRA did not reply to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eric Beech Editing by Eric Walsh and Diane Craft)

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