Cultural managements

Feds accuse founder of Russian-American cultural exchange group of being a Russian spy

NEW YORK (AP) — A Russian-American woman who founded what prosecutors called a “Russian propaganda center” in New York was charged on Tuesday with violating decade-old laws that require officers foreigners to register with the United States

The charges against Elena Branson were announced after the unveiling of a criminal complaint in federal court in Manhattan.

US attorney Damian Williams said Branson, who left the country for Russia after September 2020 and remains at large, allegedly corresponded directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he waged an aggressive propaganda campaign.

Williams said in a statement that correspondence with Putin and a high-ranking Russian minister predated his 2012 founding of the Russian Center in New York, which the prosecutor described as a “Russian propaganda center.”

He said his outreach campaign, which took place while she was also president of the Russian Community Council of the United States, included an “I love Russia” campaign aimed at young Americans.

“All this time, Branson knew she was supposed to register as an agent of the Russian government, but chose not to and instead told others how to illegally avoid the same thing” , Williams said.

“Especially given current world events, the need to detect and thwart attempts at foreign influence is of critical importance, and the Southern District of New York is proud to do its part in the fight against tyranny. “, did he declare.

The criminal complaint accused Branson of acting illegally on behalf of the Russian government since at least 2011. It said she started the Russian Center New York after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government to do so.

Branson, 61, was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the United States Attorney General, among other charges.

The complaint said her work on behalf of the Russian government included arranging meetings for herself and other Russian officials with US government officials and US-based business executives.

He said she even tried in April 2016 to invite then-presidential candidate Donald Trump or one of his children to a “Russia Forum in New York”, although the complaint was said there was no sign that Trump or his children attended the meeting.

The complaint says she emailed a Trump adviser after the November 2016 presidential election to offer her congratulations and try to get the president-elect to attend a world chess championship in Manhattan. , although “there is no indication that the former president attended the referenced event”. .”

At that event on Nov. 10, 2016, Branson was photographed with Putin’s current press secretary, according to the complaint.

In March 2016, he says, she helped organize meetings for the head of the Department of Foreign Economic Activity and International Relations of the Moscow government with, among others, a senator from New York State and the management of certain American companies.

In 2019, authorities said, she coordinated through her New York center a campaign to pressure Hawaiian officials not to change the name of Fort Elizabeth on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which is the last old russian fort remaining in the hawaiian islands.

They said she provided Hawaiian officials with messages from Russian government officials and arranged a trip to Moscow for Hawaiian officials responsible for the potential name change to meet with senior government officials.

Authorities said Branson regularly receives funds and directives from the Russian government, including from the country’s embassy in Washington, and receives assignments from senior Russian government officials and government-run organizations.

In a statement, authorities said the FBI interviewed Branson on September 29, 2020, and that she falsely claimed that she had never been invited by Russian officials to coordinate meetings between business leaders or officials. American politicians and Moscow government officials.

The complaint said the FBI during its investigation used search warrants to access eight of Branson’s electronic accounts and 34 electronic devices, including about 11 cell phones. He said she flew to Moscow less than a month after her FBI interview and sold her New York residence last March.

In a January 30, 2012 email, Branson wrote that she was sending a letter to Putin asking him to provide administrative support so she could organize events at the Russian Consulate in New York and the Russian Embassy. in Washington, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, Branson sent an email in April 2012 to someone who worked in the New York City Mayor’s office thanking him for helping her get “statistical data” to help open the Russian Center. New York.

The complaint says she received approximately $173,000 between August 2013 and November 22, 2019 from entities controlled by the Russian government in connection with her work at the center.

In October, Branson told a Russian government-controlled television station that she had left the United States because she thought it was likely she would be arrested.