False sex charge against Russian: US

Federal prosecutors have admitted that they wrongly accused Maria Butina, a Russian citizen now in custody on charges of illegally acting as a foreign agent, of offering to trade sex for a job as part of a covert effort by Russian government officials to infiltrate Republican circles in the United States.

By Sharon LaFraniere in Washington
  • Published 10.09.18
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Washington: Federal prosecutors have admitted that they wrongly accused Maria Butina, a Russian citizen now in custody on charges of illegally acting as a foreign agent, of offering to trade sex for a job as part of a covert effort by Russian government officials to infiltrate Republican circles in the United States.

In a court filing late on Friday, prosecutors in the US attorney's office in Washington acknowledged that they had been "mistaken" in interpreting what were apparently joking text messages between Butina and a friend who had helped her renew her car insurance.

Butina was charged this summer with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government in what prosecutors have claimed was a secret campaign to try to influence high-level Republican politicians, including Donald J. Trump, both as a candidate and after his election. Denied bail, she is now in custody in the detention centre in Alexandria, Va.

Defence lawyers for Butina are arguing that the prosecutors' error is emblematic of a flawed federal case that has wrongly landed their client in pretrial custody.

A federal judge is scheduled to review Butina's request that she be released from jail, as well as whether to impose a gag order, on Monday.

"I'm glad they walked it back, but in a lot of ways, the damage is already done," Robert N. Driscoll, Butina's lawyer, said in an interview.

In court filings, he has argued that his client engaged in innocent political activity but has now been falsely portrayed as a villain in a sensationalised spy drama. "A simple Google search using the phrase 'Maria Butina and sex' yields over 300,000 hits," he said.

New York Times News Service