Maria Butina: Russia ‘person of interest’ in treason case

Image copyright EPA Image caption On Monday, the US Justice Department charged accused spy Maria Butina

The woman accused of working for Russia as a foreign agent was a “person of interest” and recruited by Russian agents, her lawyers have said.

On Tuesday, Maria Butina, 29, pleaded not guilty in Washington to charges including conspiracy.

She said she would cooperate with federal officials and had already tried to flee the country in November.

Her legal team said she had decided to cooperate in Russia’s interest and did not believe she had done anything wrong.

“The stated interest in Butina’s help apparently was Russia’s,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We believe that in order to move her case along and have the best chance of acquittal, Andrey Guryev and Maria Butina will prove her innocence.”

More than a month before her arrest, she had contacted a Russian officer to ask for Russian representation, according to papers filed by prosecutors in response to her bail application.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Defence lawyers said Butina wasn’t a spy

Her lawyers are now urging that she be allowed to remain in her home, and that she not be deported from the US, so she can adequately defend herself.

Prosecutors allege that Butina established a network of contacts with Americans who had influence over US policy towards Russia.

The lawyer for her alleged co-conspirator, Alexander Torshin, told reporters that she would have fled if she was under suspicion, and that he was sure she was not a spy.

He said he would issue a counter-challenge in court on Wednesday seeking access to her bank accounts.

She is charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation, acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation, and conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation.

The main charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

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