Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina Seeks Cash Donations

(Bloomberg) -- A Russian woman accused by the U.S. of being a foreign agent is seeking donations to help pay for her legal defense as the Russian government renews demands that she be released from jail.

Maria Butina, a gun-rights advocate who came to the U.S. on a student visa, is "another victim of so-called ‘American justice’ and is in fact a political prisoner due to the Russophobic hysteria reigning in Washington," the Russian embassy said Friday in a tweet. The post includes a website address for making donations to The Maria Butina Legal Expense Fund.

“I’m Maria, and I need your help," the website says alongside images of Butina smiling, including on horseback. The site describes her as a hard-working college student from Siberia who “was arrested by the U.S. government for crimes she did not commit."

The tweet also linked to a Russian government foreign policy website with an update on Butina’s case, saying she’d last been visited by embassy staff on Oct. 10. Her conditions have improved since she was transferred to a general-detention facility, “thanks to our efforts,” it said.

“Maria is allowed to leave the cell more often, take walks outside, communicate with other inmates and read books in Russian," which have “generally helped stabilize” her morale, according to the website.

Butina has been in custody since her July arrest. Prosecutors alleged she had ties to Russia’s intelligence services and oligarchs who are capable of helping her to flee. She’s accused of trying to establish back-channel connections between Russia and conservative groups before Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory.

Butina’s next court hearing is set for Nov. 13.

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