Who is Maria Butina suspected by US of being Russian spy
The girl is known in her homeland and the United States as a "defender of interests of law-abiding owners of civilian weapons," founder and member of the board of public organization called Right to Bear Arms.
The day before the US Justice Department reported about the detention of Russian citizen Maria Butina, 29, on suspicion of being "an agent of a foreign state" in Washington on July 15. She is accused of trying to "develop relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics." She faces up to five years in prison. At the court session on July 18, a preventive measure will be chosen for her.
According to The Washington Post, in April this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a search at the place of the Russian woman’s residence, and several months ago she was already questioned in the US Senate Intelligence Committee.
Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll denied all charges against his client. "Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation," RIA Novosti cites the lawyer as saying.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that "the Consular Department of the Russian embassy in the United States is clarifying the circumstances of Butina's detention and her whereabouts" to provide access to the Russian citizen to protect her legitimate rights.
What is Maria Butina known for?
The girl has come to be known in her homeland and the United States as a "defender of interests of law-abiding owners of civilian weapons," founder and member of the board of the public organization called Right to Bear Arms.
According to Telegram channel Otkrytye Media (Open Media), since 2016 Butina has lived in the US on an F-1 student visa. Lawyer Driscoll stated that his client "recently graduated from the American University in Washington, receiving a master’s degree in international relations."
According to the CV of the Russian woman, published in Telegram channel of Deputy Director General of Transparency International-Russia Ilya Shumanov, Butina was born in Barnaul, graduated with honors from the Altai State University with a degree in political science. She has additional education as a teacher. In 2011, she entered the postgraduate course at the Altai State University specializing in political processes, institutes, and technologies. The sphere of scientific interests is Problematic movements as an actual phenomenon in modern Russia.
In 2008, she was elected a member of the Public Chamber of Altai Krai from the Altai Regional Public Youth Organization League of Students of the Altai State University, the website of the regional advisory body reads.
Shumanov reports that from 2005 to 2008 Butina took part in the election campaigns for the Barnaul City Duma and the Altai Territory Council of Deputies as the Head of the field service. In 2011, the girl progressed into the "national primaries," winning the project Youth Primaries of the Young Guard of United Russia.
"She has been fond of volleyball and swimming since she went to school. Favorite sports are practical shooting from a pistol, clay pigeon shooting, chess. She likes classical music, is keen on literature and cinema. She is fluent in English and at the beginner level in German," - writes Shumanov without indicating the source of information.
Open Media pens with reference to Contour-Focus database that Butina owns advertising agency Antares, registered in Moscow in May 2012.
Link with Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia
The investigation believes that from 2015 until at least 2017, Butina worked "on the orders of a high-ranking official of the Russian government that used to be a member of the Russian parliament and then became a high-ranking representative in the Central Bank of the Russian Federation." The US department specified that this person was under the sanctions of the US Treasury.
Perhaps, this is about the current Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, when he was a member of the Federation Council from the Republic of Mari El, Butina worked as his assistant.
In August 2016, Bloomberg, citing a report of the Spanish police, accused Torshin of having links to Taganskaya gang. Law enforcers deemed that Torshin gave instructions to members of the group on money laundering through banks and real estate in Spain. The agency notes that the leader of the organized crime group, Alexander Romanov, calls Torshin his "godfather" or "boss." The Deputy Chairman of the Bank of Russia denied all charges.
As RIA Novosti writes, earlier US media assumed that Butina was trying to build connections with the local arms lobby, the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). According to Open Media, Torshin has been a member of the NRA since 2011.
"The alleged connection between Torshin and the NRA via Butina was presented as evidence of "concert" between President Donald Trump and Russia since the NRA supports the Republicans and Trump," RIA Novosti pens.
Meanwhile, Shumanov published Torshin’s tweet written on February 13, 2016: "Maria Butina is now in the US. She writes to me that D. Trump (an NRA member) is really for cooperation with Russia."
Last year, Butina, as part of the Russian delegation, attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, at which the American President traditionally speaks. She was there as a spokesperson of public organization Right to Bear Arms, TASS reported.
As anonymous Telegram channel Boylernaya (Boiler Room) notes, in June 2015, Butina wrote a column for National Interest magazine titled The Bear and the Elephant about how the Republican President would help mend relations with Russia.
"In July she made her way to the microphone at one of Trump's meetings with voters and asked a question about relations with Russia, to which she received one of the first answers from the future President that he would get along with Putin," the authors of Boylernaya write.
Of note is the fact that the detention of the Russian woman was announced after the end of the talks between the US and Russian presidents in Helsinki on July 16, during which the Kremlin's intervention in the American elections was tackled. At the final press conference, Vladimir Putin confirmed that he wanted Trump's victory, "because he [the candidate] spoke about the normalization of Russian-American relations." However, the President of Russia once again refuted the accusations of meddling in the electoral process of the United States.
Initially, the defendants in the case had been charged with embezzlement through swindling in the amount of 225 million rubles ($3.3 million). In the final version of the indictment, the article was changed to 1.5-billion-ruble ($22.45 million) embezzlement.