The Russian government claims Maria Butina is being held as a “political prisoner” in the U.S., where the 29-year-old Russian national is being held on charges that she is a foreign agent of Russia.
“Her arrest is motivated solely by motives of American domestic and foreign policy, and, therefore, she is a political prisoner,” Andrei Kozhin, a spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said at a Thursday briefing.
Butina was indicted on July 17 on charges that she conspired and acted as a foreign agent of Russia to infiltrate American political groups. Butina, a recent American University graduate, allegedly worked under the direction of Alexander Torshin, the deputy chief of Russia’s central bank.
Butina and Torshin developed close ties to the National Rifle Association. Butina also developed a romantic relationship with a Republican operative named Paul Erickson. Erickson made contact with the Trump campaign in May 2016 offering to set up a meeting between Torshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump. (RELATED: Lavrov To Butina: Free Maria Butina)
The meeting never took place.
The Russian government has strongly protested Butina’s arrest and a federal judge’s decision to keep her in jail while she awaits trial. The Department of Justice successfully argued that Butina poses a flight risk because of her lack of ties in the United States and her connections to Russia.
In a memo filed on July 18, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu said the government has evidence that Butina had contact information for members of Russia’s foreign intelligence services. She was also spotted having lunch in March with a Russian diplomat who was removed from the U.S. along with dozens of other Russian operatives.
Liu also said that the FBI seized records that showed that Butina discussed having a Russian oligarch “funder” of some sort. Butina reportedly told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during an interview in April that her benefactor was Konstantin Nikolaev, an energy executive whose son volunteered for the Trump campaign. (RELATED: Maria Butina’s Billionaire ‘Funder’ Has Been Identified)
Kozhin said that employees of the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. have visited Butina in jail and attended her court hearings.
Kozhin said that FBI agents bearing “automatic rifles” raided Butina’s apartment in Washington, D.C. and “literally broke furniture, shook and even tore up things, opened floors and walls.”
“Nothing reprehensible was found, but despite the complete lack of evidence of any guilt, M.V. Butina was refused release,” he said.
Kozhin also denied that Butina worked for the Russian government.
“Certain political forces in the United States, from their own selfish interests, invented a story about ‘Russian interference in the American elections,’ and on the wave of the campaign of denigrating our country, [Butina] was sent to prison on an absolutely fabricated occasion.”
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