Maria Butina(L) has been ordered jailed pending trial over allegations of acting as a Russian agent.A judge has ordered an accused Russian agent jailed until her trial after US prosecutors argued she has ties to Russian intelligence and could flee the United States.
Prosecutors have not charged the agent they identified as Maria Butina with espionage, but said she had been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents.
During a preliminary hearing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the lead prosecutor in the case showed a photo of Butina in a Washington restaurant meeting with someone whom they believe is a Russian intelligence agent.
The 29-year-old former American University graduate student wore an orange prison jumpsuit in court and showed no emotion as her lawyer entered a not-guilty plea.
The government also displayed a copy of a handwritten note uncovered by the FBI at Butina’s apartment asking how to respond to an employment offer from a Russian intelligence agency, as well as a photo of her standing in front of the US Capitol on the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president 18 months ago.
“We do not believe she was here … just to attend American University,” said lead prosecutor Erik Michael Kenerson, adding that Butina was engaged in a “covert influence campaign.”
The case coincides with an investigation by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether members of Trump’s 2016 election campaign coordinated with Russian officials.
Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said she is not a Russian agent and poses no flight risk. She was arrested on Sunday without warning. In a statement after the hearing, Driscoll declared his client is innocent.
Butina has been accused of working with a high-powered Russian official and two unidentified US citizens, trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation in the US and influence US foreign policy toward Russia.
The gun rights group was not identified. However, her social media accounts show she attended many National Rifle Association events and met with top officials of the lobbying group.
The unidentified Russian official appears to match the description of Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in April. The central bank has declined comment on the case.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said there were no grounds for Butina’s arrest and that its embassy in Washington has requested a meeting with her.