Jailed Russian agent Maria Butina slams 'absurd' conviction

Butina speaks as leader of a pro-gun organisation during a press conference in Moscow in 2013. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Maria Butina, the only Russian arrested and convicted in the three-year investigation of Moscow's interference in US politics, on Tuesday (April 30) called her conviction absurd and a "disgrace" for American justice.

Butina, a 30-year-old gun activist, spoke to Russian reporters by phone after she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday.

"I did not expect such a severe punishment," she said in her telephone comments to reporters.

"This is absolutely absurd. This is a huge disgrace for the US justice system."

Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, confirmed Butina's participation in the news conference.

She had admitted one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without registering - a so-called "espionage-lite" charge the US has used before against alleged Russian spies.

Prosecutors said that although she worked openly and was not tied to any Russian intelligence agency, she was sending back reports to a high-level Russian official and posed a threat to the United States.

On Tuesday, Butina again denied she was a pro-Kremlin political activist, saying she was a gun campaigner and worked towards better US-Russian relations.

"I was in favour of improving ties between Russia and the United States. I love my country," she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the weekend slammed Butina's jailing as "arbitrary", adding that he did not understand why she had been incarcerated.

Butina said she had to cooperate with US authorities or would have faced between 5 and 15 years in prison.

She was given credit for nine months already served and will be deported when she is released.

Butina used her ties to the National Rifle Association to build a network of powerful Republican contacts.

Her case played out against a backdrop of tension between Moscow and Washington over what US intelligence says was a concerted effort by Russian spies to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, using hacking and social media manipulation to help President Donald Trump to victory.

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