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