MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that he had never heard of a woman who is accused of spying for Moscow in the United States until her July arrest.
U.S. prosecutors have alleged that Maria Butina gathered intelligence and worked to develop relationships with American politicians through the National Rifle Association. They also alleged that a former Russian lawmaker who was subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged ties to Putin directed Butina's activities.
Butina is charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Russian government. U.S. prosecutors indicated in a court filing Monday that she accepted a plea deal.
Putin said at a meeting of the presidential human rights council Tuesday that he asked Russian intelligence services for information about 30-year-old Butina after he heard about the "poor girl" who faces 15 years in prison.
"When I heard that something is happening to her, I just went to all intelligence chiefs and asked who she was," he said in televised remarks after a council member raised the issue of defending the rights of Russians abroad. "No one knows anything about her."
Butina, who was arrested in July and has been in custody since, was charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. Her lawyer has argued that Butina is a student interested in American politics and U.S.-Russian relations.