Posted by Masood Farivar | 17 February 2018 | 1,647 times
The special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election announced charges against the first group of Russians it says were behind the effort, unsealing an indictment against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities.
The indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury on Friday, alleges that Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based company with ties to the Kremlin, and its 12 employees engaged “in operations to interfere with elections and political processes” from 2014 through the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
The firm was long believed to have played a critical role in Russia’s election meddling effort, employing fake social media accounts, paid online users and other tools to try to sway the election in favour of President Donald Trump.
Also named in the indictment were Internet Research Agency’s alleged financial backer, Russian businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and two companies he controls – Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering. The indictment says Prigozhin and his businesses provided “significant funds” for Internet Research Agency’s operations to influence the 2016 American elections.
None of those charged in today’s indictment are in custody, a spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office said.
The indictment charges all the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and five individuals with aggravated identity theft.
Significantly, prosecutors say that Internet Research Agency, described as an outfit “engaged in political and electoral interference operations,” and its employees sought to coordinate their effort with Trump campaign associates.
After the indictments were announced, Trump took to Twitter to again deny his campaign worked with the Russians.
Early during the 2016 campaign, the court document says Internet Research Agency and its employees posted “derogatory information” about a number of presidential candidates. By early to mid-2016, the indictment alleges the operation included “supporting” Trump’s presidential campaign and “disparaging” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Taking on fake American identities, the Russian operatives communicated with “unwitting” Trump campaign associates and with other political activists “to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment said.
The indictment marks the first group of Russians charged in connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian election interference has led to the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates.
Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition.
Details of indictment
The indictment details how the operatives used subterfuge, stolen identities and other methods to stage political rallies, bought ads on social media platforms, and paid gullible Americans to “promote or disparage candidates”.
To avoid detection by U.S. law enforcement agencies, the Russian operatives used computer networks based in the United States, according to the indictment.
“These groups and pages, which addressed the divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S activists when, in fact, they were controlled by defendants,” the indictment reads.
A number of the operatives are alleged to have traveled to the United States under “false pretenses to collect intelligence to inform the influence operations.”
The indictment alleges that the firm began its “operations to interfere with U.S. political system” as early as 2014.
Also Friday, Mueller reached an agreement with Richard Pinedo, who pleaded guilty of aiding and abetting interstate and foreign identity fraud. Pinedo, of California, admitted to selling stolen bank and credit card numbers to the Russians, although he told investigators he “had absolutely no knowledge” about who was purchasing the information or what they planned to do with it. (VOA)
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