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Maria Butina, Running For Russian Parliament, Is Accused Of Being US Agent

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September 17, 2021 3:33 p.m.

For Maria Butina, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.

After serving out a prison sentence in the U.S. for acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia, she now faces accusations in Russia of acting as a foreign agent of the United States.

Butina, however, has not been avoiding publicity since departing the United States in 2019. Rather, she’s making a run for seat in the Russian parliament, with elections scheduled for Friday.

Butina is running on the United Russia ticket, the country’s ruling political party, to represent Kirov Oblast.

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But she ran into a peculiar scandal last month that involved former Overstock CEO and Arizona audit financier Patrick Byrne and accusations that Butina, a convicted Russian agent in the U.S., was acting as a U.S. agent in Russia.

For Butina, the trouble began not when she ran for Russian parliament, or with her December 2018 guilty plea. Rather, it began with a push by the Kremlin to limit exposure of Russian government officials to Western sanctions.

After Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Obama administration imposed a series of sanctions on the Russian economy and laid out specific sanctions on members of the Russian government deemed responsible for the events in Ukraine.

This created a problem for the Kremlin. Corrupt officials who stashed their money in now-vulnerable Western bank accounts, or those who simply enjoyed the benefits of a Miami beach apartment, suddenly faced a big point of leverage from the United States.

So, the country banned candidates for parliament from holding foreign assets or income.

This is where Butina gets into trouble. After returning to Russia, she became a minor celebrity, working as a TV host on RT, for which she dropped in on Alexei Navalny earlier this year.

She also announced her candidacy for Russian parliament in April, running in part on her experience with the FBI.

“In America, I was arrested on accusations of acting as a foreign agent in the interests of Russia,” she said in a campaign ad. “But my country stood up for me, everyone from the President to residents in the depths of Russia fought for my release.”

To register as a candidate, Butina had to release financial disclosure forms showing her present assets and sources of income.

That, Russian media report, included dozens of stocks and bonds of foreign companies, as well as sources of income that included a family member, the company that owns RT, and … Patrick Byrne.

To be clear, Butina said here that she received money from Byrne, who revealed in 2019 that he had carried on a three-year relationship with Butina. Byrne said that he had told federal investigators about their relationship.

In Russia, putting Byrne down as an income source sparked a minor scandal.

The Communist Party of Kirov region, where Butina is running, issued a press release saying that the Byrne income made her an “American agent” because Byrne “cooperates with the FBI.” The Communists demanded that Russian election officials disqualify Butina as a candidate over the revelation, but officials later said that they had reviewed additional documents saying that the assets had been sold and that the income had stopped.

So, will Butina win? Who knows.

The elections over there aren’t known for their transparency, to put it mildly, and Butina is running on the ruling party line.

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