Monday 24 June 2019

Alleged Russian agent offered sex for key US job, court is told

Maria Butina. Photo: Reuters
Maria Butina. Photo: Reuters

Ben Riley-Smith

An alleged Russian spy offered sex in exchange for a job and was praised by her Kremlin handler for having "upstaged" Anna Chapman, the former spy who was expelled from America in 2010, according to a new court filing.

Maria Butina, a pro-gun rights campaigner, took part in a "years-long conspiracy" to secretly work in America on behalf of the Russian government, US prosecutors have claimed.

The 29-year-old told a Russian official she must remain "incognito" and keep everything "quiet and careful" the month before the 2016 US election, according to messages allegedly uncovered by the FBI.

In one message, she is praised for being a "daredevil" by the unnamed Russian official after getting close to the US Capitol on Donald Trump's inauguration day. She allegedly wrote back: "Good teachers!"

Ms Butina's relationship with a 56-year-old American is also discussed in the court filings. He is not named but US media have reported his biography matches that of a Republican strategist.

US prosecutors claimed that the pair "cohabited" and had "been involved in a personal relationship" during her time in America. But they add that Ms Butina saw the relationship "as simply a necessary aspect of her activities".

In papers seized by the FBI, Ms Butina allegedly "complained about living" with the man - 27 years her senior - and "expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate" with him.

The court filing does not detail the exact nature of their relationship.

However, it does claim that Ms Butina offered another person "sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organisation".

The FBI also allegedly found a hand-written note with the words: "How to respond to FSB offer of employment?" The FSB is the successor to the KGB, the notorious Soviet-era security agency.

The extraordinary allegations are reminiscent of Ms Chapman, a Russian intelligence agent who was expelled from America in 2010. She has since become a model and TV presenter.

The comparison was not lost on Ms Butina's alleged Russian handler. The official noted the similarities between the two red-haired women in a March 2017 message after a series of media articles was published about Ms Butina, known as a pro-gun rights campaigner at the time who did glamorous poses holding rifles.

"You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones," the unnamed Russian official wrote to Ms Butina, according to the court filing.

US officials arrested Ms Butina in Washington on Sunday after fearing she was trying to leave the country. She had allegedly packed away her belongings in boxes and cancelled her lease.

She appeared in court in Washington in an orange jumpsuit and pink trainers. She said nothing but took copious notes as she sat next to her lawyer, who told the court she pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutor Erik Kenerson showed the court an FBI surveillance photo of her having dinner in a Washington restaurant with a Russian intelligence officer who was said to have been recently expelled by the US. He said: "The evidence is overwhelming that she was involved in a covert influence campaign." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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