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US court sentences Russian agent Maria Butina to 18 months for conspiracy


A federal court on Friday sentenced Russian national Maria Butina to 18 months jail after she pleaded guilty of allegedly trying to infiltrate conservative political circles and promoting Russian interests before and after the 2016 presidential election.
The leader of a small Russian gun rights group, the 30-year-old Siberian native, is so far the only Russian citizen arrested and convicted in the three-year investigation of Moscow's interference in 2016 US presidential elections, CNN reported.
However, Butina's efforts appeared to be separate from the Kremlin's sweeping election-meddling campaign detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Butina was incarcerated since her arrest in July last year and will receive credit for the nine months previously served.
She will be deported to Russia after serving her sentence.
"This was no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student," Judge Tanya Chutkan from Columbia district court was quoted as saying.
Chutkan noted that Butina, who studied at American University in Washington, was engaged in a "sophisticated" and "dangerous" work.
She said, "The conduct was sophisticated and penetrated deep into political organisations," noting that Butina's actions took place as Russia was actively trying to interfere in the US democratic process.
Meanwhile, Butina expressed regret for her crime and asked for forgiveness in the court.
She said, "I deeply regret this crime," adding, "Ironically it has harmed my attempts to improve relationships between the two countries."
"I came to the US not under orders but with hope. I sought to build bridges between my motherland and the country that I grew to love," she added.
"Never did I wish to hurt anyone," Butina said.
While prosecutors have admitted that Butina is not a spy in the traditional sense, they argued that her crime still could have jeopardized the US national security.
Butina had pleaded guilty in December last year to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign official. She admitted to using her contacts in political circles of the Republican Party, the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast to influence the US relations with Russia.
Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Butina had cooperated extensively with the government. In her plea to the court, Butina also provided information regarding her boyfriend, a Republican Paul Erickson, who was allegedly involved in her scheme.
However, Erickson has not faced charges in Washington so far. He was indicted in February on wire fraud and money laundering charges in a separate case in South Dakota.

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First Published: Apr 27 2019 | 5:30 AM IST

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