Moscow says U.S forced false confession from alleged Russian agent Maria Butina

FILE PHOTO: Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the United States of forcing Russian national Maria Butina to falsely confess to what it described on Wednesday as the ridiculous charge of her being a Russian agent.

Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Thursday to a single conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors.

The 30-year-old Siberian admitted working with a top Russian official to infiltrate a powerful U.S. gun rights group and to making inroads with American conservative activists and politicians as an agent for Moscow.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said on Wednesday that Butina had been coerced into making a false confession.

“Butina confirmed that she had done a deal with U.S. investigators and confessed to being a foreign agent,” Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.

“Having created unbearable conditions for her and threatening her with a long jail sentence, she was literally forced to sign up to absolutely ridiculous charges.”

Butina’s legal team and U.S. prosecutors face a 5 p.m. deadline to submit legal filings regarding their positions on the case at the U.S. District Court in Washington. A status hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2019.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Tom Balmforth

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