Speaking at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Human Rights in the Kremlin on December 11, President Vladimir Putin expressed puzzlement over the fate of Maria Butina, the Russian agent indicted in the United States.
Putin said that Butina was “guilty of nothing” – a claim she refuted herself on the morning of Thursday, December 13, when she pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC two days after the Russian president pronounced her innocent.
Before accepting Butina’s plea, Judge Tanya Chutkan established that Butina had entered into a plea deal voluntarily, knowingly and with no pressure or coercion, and also without any mental or psychological conditions.
When the judge asked her under the oath if she was pleading guilty because she is guilty, Butina responded, “yes, guilty,” fully accepting the charge of conspiracy to commit at offense against the United States. She also agreed to cooperate with U.S. investigators.
Putin’s claim that “no one knows anything about her at all” is also false on multiple levels.
Firstly, Putin is a friend and close associate of Alexandr Torshin., the figure described in the U.S. indictment as the “Russian official and Butina’s handler.”
During Putin’s years in power, Torshin, a highly decorated government official, appeared at public events standing next to Putin – an honor reserved for those in the Kremlin inner circle who are closest to the president.
The FBI’s criminal complaint against Butina, which she described in court as a “true and accurate” account of her actions, includes quotes from her direct message exchanges with Torshin and emails to her American associate – identified by prosecutors as “U.S. Person 1” – in which she refers to Putin’s direct approval of her “mission” at least on seven occasions.
In a letter dated March 30, 2016, Butina refers to a conversation between Torshin and Putin, writing that Torshin “suggested to President Putin that he consider coming to the Prayer Breakfast next year, Feb. 2017, and Pres. Putin did not say ‘no’!” She also suggests that for Putin to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, he must receive a personal invitation from the U.S. president.
In her letters, Butina repeatedly referred to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s approval for her own actions and for Torshin’s visits to the U.S. and meetings with influential American politicians. In two instances, she wrote to Torshin telling him she has his diplomatic passport and that she can purchase plane tickets for him.
In 2012, Spanish police investigating a Russian organized crime group operating on the island of Mallorca discovered that a figure whom some of the suspects referred to as their “godfather” was Torshin.
“Spanish prosecutors decided in the summer of 2013 to arrest Torshin, who was then a senator, officials say,” ProPublica wrote earlier this year. “Police set up an operation to capture him during a visit to Mallorca, but he mysteriously canceled the trip at the last minute, apparently as the result of a tip, authorities said. Torshin was never charged, while the other suspects were convicted of money laundering. Last year, he publicly denied any wrongdoing in the Spanish money-laundering case.”
Torshin has been the target of U.S. sanctions for his role in the Russian clandestine operations in foreign countries.
For Butina, the plea deal means she will remain in jail until her cooperation with the U.S. government is complete, after which the judge will decide on the sentence. While the maximum punishment she could receive is five years imprisonment, she could potentially face deportation with no right to apply for U.S. citizenship or a U.S. visa. By pleading guilty, Butina also loses the right to appeal the court verdict.
Information discovered by a popular Russian Telegram channel suggests that Butina’s involvement with Russian government agencies may have been even broader than that shown in the U.S. case against her.
According to the Telegram post, Butina is the founder of “Antares,” a Moscow firm with a budget of 10,000 rubles and no employees. Polygraph.info confirmed the information via the Russian tax authorities’ online database.
But, the most interesting piece of this new information is that Butina’s firm is located in the same office in Moscow as the LLC “Prestige,” whose founder and owner, Sergey Krechetov, is affiliated with “MKPK Universal” – a developer and distributor of top secret strategic air force equipment for the Russian Defense Ministry.
Before the plea was announced, Polygraph.info fact checked the story going around in Russia that Butina would receive U.S. citizenship. We were able to update the story, following the hearing, and the verdict.