BFF-33 US accusations against Russian Butina ‘unfounded’: Kremlin

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US accusations against Russian Butina ‘unfounded’: Kremlin

MOSCOW, Dec 14, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The Kremlin on Friday rejected as
unfounded the US case against Russian national Maria Butina, who the day
before pleaded guilty to acting as an illegal foreign agent in the country.

“We consider the accusations against her as absolutely unfounded,”
presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile said he had “reasons to believe”
the Russian had been kept in conditions designed to break her will and lead
her to enter a false guilty plea.

“As far as I understand, this plea bargain — the likes of which are common
in the US — is part of a deal to get free and return home as soon as
possible,” Lavrov said in comments reported by agencies.

Butina — the first Russian convicted in the sprawl of cases arising from
Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election — faces likely
deportation after a potential sentence.

Prosecutors said she launched a plan in 2015 to develop ties with the
Republican Party with the aim of influencing US foreign policy.

The plot was allegedly guided and financed in part by Alexander Torshin, an
ally of President Vladimir Putin who was deputy governor of the Russian
central bank until his retirement on November 30.

Butina was arrested in July this year and became a minor cause celebre in
Russia, with the foreign ministry putting her picture at the top of their
Twitter account with the hashtag “#FreeMariaButina”.

She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to not register as an agent of a foreign
government, a charge often used against foreign spies. But there was no
evidence presented that she worked for any of Moscow’s espionage agencies.

The conspiracy charge, and prosecutors’ vouching for her cooperation in a
broader investigation, suggested others could be charged in relation to her
case.

She is due to remain in US custody until her sentencing, in February or
later.

BSS/AFP/RY/1605 hrs