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Speculation Swirls About Maria Butina’s Mystery Oligarch ‘Funder’

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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A government document filed on Wednesday has generated speculation about the identity of a wealthy Russian “funder” for Maria Butina, the 29-year-old graduate student accused of working in the U.S. as a foreign agent of Russia.

Eleven Russian billionaires fit the general description of Butina’s moneyman laid out in the court filing.

“In addition to her ties to the Russian government, there is evidence that Butina is well connected to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy,” reads the Justice Department memo.

The memo alleges that Butina’s Twitter messages, chat logs and emails “refer to a known Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration.”

“This person often travels to the United States and has also been referred to as her ‘funder’ throughout her correspondence; he was listed in Forbes as having a real-time net worth of $1.2 billion as of 2018.”

In the memo, prosecutors argued that Butina, who was arrested on Sunday, should be kept in jail while she awaits trial on conspiracy and foreign agent charges. Butina’s lack of ties to the U.S. and her relationship with a wealthy Russian oligarch make it more likely that she would attempt to flee the U.S. or enter the Russian embassy, where she would have safe harbor.

The government accuses Butina of working under the direction of Aleksandr Torshin, the deputy head of Russia’s central bank, to infiltrate American political groups in order to advance Russia’s interests. The memo alleges that Butina maintained contact with members of Russia’s foreign spy service, the FSB. She and Torshin made contacts with the National Rifle Association. Butina also developed a relationship with a Republican political operative named Paul Erickson. The DOJ memo also claims that Butina offered sex to another individual in order to gain a position in an unnamed special interest group.

The Forbes reference in the DOJ memo provides the strongest clue to the identity of Butina’s benefactor.

The 11 Russian businessmen listed by Forbes as having a $1.2 billion net worth include several with close ties to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. One of the businessmen has a brother who serves as deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office at the Kremlin. Other oligarchs on the Forbes list are less likely because they are unlikely to have visited the U.S. in recent years due to being under sanctions.

Boris Rotenberg is an energy executive and close Putin confidant. He was one of the Russian businessmen sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 over Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Leonid Simanovsky is a deputy in Russia’s legislative body, the Duma. He has not been sanctioned but was included on the so-called Putin List released by the Department of Treasury in January. The list, which identified 210 Russian politicians and oligarchs,  was developed in response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Vadim Yakunin, the former chairman of Russian Railways, is also reportedly close to Putin. He was also sanctioned in 2014, making it unlikely that he traveled frequently to the U.S. Like may other oligarchs, he is on the Putin List.

Mikhail Shelkov is an executive at Rostec, a military contractor.

Igor Rybakov controls a building material company.

Andrei Molchanov is a member of the federal assembly and LSR Group. He is on the Putin List.

Gleb Fetisov is former politician and film producer who was also included on the Putin List. One Russian transparency advocate speculated that Fetisov is Butina’s benefactor. Ilya Shumanov of Transparency International, has claimed that Fetisov is a golf partner of Torshin’s. Fetisov and Torshin also served together on the Federation Council, Russia’s upper legislative chamber. Shumanov said that at the end of 2016, Fetisov registered a film production company in Hollywood called FIFA Entertainment. A spokesman for Fetisov dismissed the alleged link to Butina as “total nonsense.”

Sergei Kolesnikov has become a vocal critic of Putin and reportedly lives in exile in Estonia.

Ziyavudin Magomedov is chairman of a conglomerate company called the Summa Group. He was arrested in Russia on embezzlement charges on March 31. According to Reuters, Magomedov was on his way to Miami when he was detained. He is reportedly publicly supportive of the Kremlin but is not a member of Putin’s inner circle. Magomedov is also on the Putin List.

Airat Shaimiev and Radik Shaimiev control oil refineries in the Republic of Tatarstan. They are also included on the Putin List.

Butina had contact with other wealthy Russians, the Justice Department claims.

The DOJ memo says that just before Butina made her first trip to the U.S. in late 2014, she “engaged in a series of text messages with a different wealthy Russian businessman regarding budgets for her trip to the United States and meetings with the aforementioned ‘funder.'”

“Individuals such as these wealthy businessmen could, through their wealth and influence, be in a position to offer a safe harbor for Butina,” the government argued.

A federal judge accepted the government’s argument on Wednesday and that Butina must remain in jai

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