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Russian spy offered sex for access and was praised for 'upstaging Anna Chapman', US prosecutors claim

Ben Riley-Smith

A flame-haired female Russian student was a Kremlin spy who offered sex as she sought to make influential connections in the US political system, a court heard.

Maria Butina, 29, took part in a "years-long conspiracy" to secretly advance the interests of the Russian government in America, it was alleged.

Butina appeared in court in Washington on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, and acting as a foreign agent, which carry a possible 10-year jail term.

Dressed in an orange jump suit, and pink training shoes, she showed little emotion and said nothing, taking copious handwritten notes during a lengthy hearing.

Judge Deborah Robinson denied bail, saying there was no other way to prevent Butina seeking diplomatic refuge at the Russian Embassy.

Maria Butina in a picture from her Facebook page 

The court was shown an FBI surveillance photograph of Butina having dinner with a Russian intelligence officer at a restaurant called Bistro Bis in Washington.

Prosecutors said there were also photographs of her with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador.

For several years Butina had been studying at American University in Washington, and she also became a high profile pro-gun activist, telling how she learned to hunt wolves and bears in Siberia.

In a 29-page complaint, which read like an extract from a spy novel, prosecutors alleged that was a cover story.

At one point she had been praised by her Kremlin handler for “upstaging” the former Russian spy Anna Chapman, it was alleged.

Maria Butina in a picture from her Facebook page 

Ms Chapman, a red-haired Russian intelligence agent, was expelled from the US in 2010 and has since become a celebrity in Russia.

After a series of news articles were published about Butina's gun activism a Russian official wrote to her: "Good morning! How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame? Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet?

"You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones.”

Through her gun activism Butina had her photograph taken with a string of high profile Republican figures including state governors Scott Walker, Rick Scott and Bobby Jindal, Senator Rick Santorum, and National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre.

A courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, in orange suit listening to her attorney Robert Driscoll  as he speaks to Judge Deborah Robinson during a hearing in federal court in Washington, Wednesday, July 18, 2018 Credit: Dana Verkouteren/AP

She also asked Donald Trump a question about Russia following his speech at a National Prayer Breakfast event in February last year.

In another message she was praised by a Russian official for being a ”daredevil” after she shared a photograph of herself near the US Capitol on Mr Trump's Inauguration Day. Butina wrote back: “Good teachers!”

Prosecutors alleged Butina developed a relationship with a 56-year-old American. He was named in court only as "Person 1" but US media reported that he was a Republican strategist. 

In papers seized by the FBI, Butina allegedly “complained about living” with the older man and “expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate” with him, according to prosecutors.

Maria Butina in a picture from her Facebook page 

It was also alleged that Butina offered another person “sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organisation”. 

The FBI also allegedly found a hand-written note with the words "How to respond to FSB offer of employment”. The FSB is the successor to the KGB. 

In her communications Butina repeatedly referred to a billionaire Russian oligarch as her "funder," prosecutors alleged.

Butina was arrested after the FBI suspected she might trying to leave the country.

Robert Driscoll, Butina's lawyer, told the court she denied wrongdoing.

He said: "There's a completely innocent explanation. She’s accused of having dinner at Bistro Bis.  She’s accused of going to political events. She’s accused of going to the Capitol on Inauguration Day."

Maria Butina has been accused in court documents of being a Russian spy