Judge orders alleged Russian agent to remain in custody

Maria Butina has been accused of trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation

The woman, Maria Butina, has been in regular contact with Russian intelligence, the Justice Department says, and she attempted to offer sex in exchange for a position with an organization she targeted.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said there were no grounds for her arrest, and that its embassy in Washington has requested a meeting with Butina.

The document continued, saying that even if Butina was only planning on leaving the immediate DC area, US Person 1 was her "sole real tie" to the US.

Prosecutors also said Butina was regarded as a covert agent by a Russian official with whom she was in touch, with text messages discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showing how the official likened her to Anna Chapman, a Russian woman who was arrested in 2010 and then deported as part of a prisoner swap.

"If she gets into a diplomatic auto, that vehicle can go across the border", Kenerson said. "She not only has deep ties to her country (with which the United States has no extradition treaty) but actually works on behalf of the Russian government".

Driscoll referred to the South Dakota resident as Butina's boyfriend and said she had planned to move there to be with him, but then she was arrested.

"She's not a flight risk", Robert Neil Driscoll said at the hearing.

Butina's involvement in USA political affairs has also extended beyond the pro-gun camp.

Butina smoothed her hair back when the judge issued the ruling and was led out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals deputies. Butina's next court appearance was scheduled for July 24.

In the 29-page filing, prosecutors said Ms Butina has ties to Russian oligarchs, including one with a net worth of $1.2bn, and that she was previously was in touch with oligarchs about funding her trip to the US. She cancelled her lease, sent US$3,500 to an account in Russian Federation and inquired about renting a moving truck, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have not charged the agent they identified as Maria Butina with espionage, but said she had been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents. Her ultimate goal was to make American politics more sympathetic to Russian interests, according to court filings. That individual appears to fit the profile of Alexander Torshin, a former senator and Russian central banker who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year. Her apartment lease was set to expire on July 31, and there were boxes packed in her apartment, according to the latest court filings.

Ms Chapman was exchanged as part of a spy swap in 2010.

Butina's arrest was announced as Trump flew back from Helsinki to Washington, following an inaugural summit with Putin. "Happenstance and the (sometimes) worldwide reach for the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin", he wrote in a May 2016 email to Rick Dearborn, who was a staffer of then-Sen.

Zakharova added that the Russian authorities were looking to secure access to her.

Butina used a United States citizen, who is not named by prosecutors but matches the description of political operative Paul Erickson, to gain access to an extensive network of Americans in a position to influence political activities in the country, prosecutors said. "Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with Person 1".

In court documents, Butin's alleged Russian handlers remain unidentified.

Erickson cited the "sometimes worldwide reach" of the NRA as part of a pitch he made in 2016 to members of Donald Trump's campaign.

Kremlin-backed Russian television calls her the "ideal victim" of anti-Russian hysteria in the U.S. The NRA has reported that Torshin had made a "life membership payment" to the organization, but Torshin has claimed that both he and Butina are NRA "life members". She was arrested on Sunday without warning.

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