Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina held without bail

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

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

Displaying a flair with handguns and automatic rifles, she was a VIP at the NRA, arguably the most powerful conservative lobby in the United States.

Authorities say the relationship with the operative shouldn't be seen as a "strong tie" to the U.S., noting she "offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization".

During a preliminary hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lead prosecutor in the case showed a photo of Butina in a Washington restaurant meeting with someone whom they believe is a Russian intelligence agent.

The diplomat is suspected of being a spy in the U.S. The FSB is the main successor agency to the former Soviet Union's KGB. She pleaded not guilty Wednesday during a hearing in which U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson ordered her held in jail as the case moves forward, saying she was a flight risk. "Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1".

Court papers unsealed, July 16, 2018, photographed in Washington, shows part of the criminal complaint against Maria Butina. Her lease on an apartment ends later this month, her belongings were packed at the time of her arrest and she had applied for a visa that would allow her to travel to and from the United States, prosecutors said.

Two Russian diplomatic officials attended the hearing, and Driscoll consulted with them during a short recess.

Butina also helped establish a gun rights organization modeled on the NRA in 2012. The NRA has not commented on the charges against Butina.

Federal prosecutors had argued in court that Butina poses a serious flight risk, based on the nature of the charges, her history of deceptive conduct, the potential sentence she faces, the strong evidence of guilt, her extensive foreign connections, and her lack of any meaningful ties to the United States.

Moscow denies US allegations it interfered in the election and Trump denies any campaign collusion.

The arrest is "simply fulfilling an outright political order coming, as we understand, from the forces that continue to stoke Russophobic hysteria", Zakharova said.

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USA prosecutors allege that Butina sought to cultivate close ties with the NRA as a conduit to the Republican Party during the 2016 presidential election.

Public figure Maria Butina (R) attends a meeting of a group of experts, affiliated to the government of Russian Federation, in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on July 17, 2018.

Prosecutors have not named the Russian official.

However, Isikoff warned that the real "target" for prosecutors is Butina's assumed "boss", Aleksandr Torshin, a Russian politician tied to the Russian Central Bank.

"This happened with the obvious task of minimising the positive effect" of this week's Helsinki summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

The 29-year-old is alleged to have been in contact with Russian intelligence officials and spoke to wealthy Russian oligarchs to fund her trip to America, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She is also accused of trying to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin. He denied Butina was a Russian agent.

The DOJ charges that from 2015 through at least February 2017 Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government - Alexander Torshin, the state secretary-deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in April - and at times with "an American political operative " (identified as U.S. Person 1) to "jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics for the objective of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation". He added she was seeking to support a better relationship between the US and Russian Federation.

Prosecutors also alleged that she used a personal relationship with an unnamed American political operative, with whom she was living, "as simply a necessary aspect" of her covert activities on behalf of Russian Federation.

Butina and the official messaged each other directly on Twitter, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also alleged that she had a personal relationship with an American political operative and also offered sex to another person in exchange for a position with a special interest organization.

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