Accused Russian spy Maria Butina had high-level meetings with US Treasury officials and received funding from a Russian billionaire invested in U.S. energy and technology, according to news reports on Sunday.
Fresh revelations shedding more light on her activities in the United States come after Butina — founder of what she considered the Russian equivalent of the National Rifle Association — was indicted Tuesday on conspiracy charges and for failing to register as a foreign agent. Butina has pleaded not guilty.
According to Reuters, Butina participated in meetings between her handler Alexander Torshin — then deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and known to have close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and two senior officials at the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department in 2015.
As last week’s indictment details, Butina is accused of working with Torshin “for the purpose of developing and executing a plan to identify and exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics who were in positions to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The reports lend credence to this accusation. Butina had “wider high-level contacts in Washington than previously known,” writes Reuters.
The news outlet says the meetings provide further insight into her efforts to “cultivate” relationships with American political leaders and special interest groups.
According to Reuters, Butina traveled to the U.S. with Torshin in April 2015 where the Washington D.C. foreign policy think tank Center for the National Interest — known for its pro-Russia stance — arranged meetings for the two Russians with then Federal Reserve chairman Stanley Fischer, and Treasury undersecretary for international affairs at the time Nathan Sheets.
But that’s not all. As the Washington Post reported Sunday, Butina has received financial support from Russian Billionaire Konstantin Nikolaev, whose fortune has largely come from investments in port and railroads in Russia.
Nikolaev, however, also sits on the board of the Houston-based company, American Ethane. Last year in China, President Donald Trump showcased the company — it was one of 15 to sign massive trade deals between the U.S. and China. The billionaire is also an investor in a San Francisco start-up called Grabr that helps users buy “unusual products” from around the world, the Washington Post describes.
A spokesperson for Nikolaev confirmed to the Washington Post that he was in contact with Butina between 2012 and 2014 while she was launching her pro-gun rights group in Russia. However, he declined to confirm whether Nikolaev provided any financial support. The spokesperson also added that Nikolaev has never met Trump.
Nikloaev’s son Andrey, however, volunteered for the 2016 campaign to elect Trump. And according to sources speaking with the Washington Post, Konstantin Nikolaev was spotted at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. during Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
While it’s unclear whether Nikolaev attended any official inaugural events, according to the Post, Butina “made an appearance” at one of Trump’s inaugural balls.