Justice Dept. charges 13 Russians, 3 groups with interfering in 2016 election

By Susan McFarland and Danielle Haynes  |  Feb. 16, 2018 at 1:55 PM
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Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The Department of Justice announced indictments Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups that charges them with criminally interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The charges, announced by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, include conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

The defendants, posing as persons located inside the United States, created false personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract American audiences, the indictment says.

The defendants also allegedly stole identities of U.S. citizens to post on organization-controlled social media accounts.

Rosenstein said defendants conducted "information warfare" against the United States to spread distrust toward the candidates and the U.S. political system in general.

Prosecutors say a Russian organization called Internet Research Agency with a $1 million annual budget employed hundreds of people in online operations -- ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support personnel. The company operated out of offices in St. Petersburg.

Two other entities -- Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering -- were the Internet Research Agency's primary source of funding, the indictment says.

"Concord funded [the Internet Research Agency] as part of a larger Concord-funded interference operation that it referred to as 'Project Lakhta,'" the indictment read. "Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States."

The department said those charged set up hundreds of accounts on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to make it appear like people in the United States owned them.

The indictment also charges them with using stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts and false identification documents so they could pose as politically and socially active Americans.

"For example, the defendants organized one rally to support [then-President-elect Donald Trump] and another rally to oppose him, both in New York on the same day," Rosenstein said. "After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the president while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election."

In addition to the three entities -- Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering -- the Department of Justice named 13 individuals in the indictment. The allegations against the individuals include:

-- Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who controlled Concord, and approved and supported IRA's operations.

-- Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, who was general director, the highest-ranking position at IRA.

-- Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik (aka Mikhail Abramov), who had the second-highest-ranking position at IRA.

-- Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, who had the third-highest-ranking position at IRA and traveled to the United States to collect intelligence for operations.

-- Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, who was in charge of IT and oversaw the procurement of U.S. servers to help mask the IRA's Russian location.

-- Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, who served on translations and traveled to the United States to collect intelligence on operations for IRA.

-- Maria Anatolyevna Bovda (aka Maria Anatolyevna Belyaeva), who was head of translations for IRA.

-- Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, who was deputy head of translations and tried but failed to travel to the United States to collect intelligence for IRA.

-- Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov (aka Jayhoon Aslanov, aka Jay Aslanov), who was head of translations at IRA and general director of an entity used to move funds from Concord.

-- Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, who was an analyst and drafted social media content for IRA.

-- Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, who worked for IRA between 2014 and 2016.

-- Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, who served on translations and used multiple U.S. personas to post social media content for IRA.

-- and Vladimir Venkov, who served on translations and used multiple U.S. personas to post social media content for IRA.

In September, after news surfaced about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, one defendant allegedly wrote, "We had a slight crisis here at work. The FBI busted our activity, so I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with my colleagues."

Rosenstein added that there is no evidence to suggest the interference campaign impacted the election's outcome. He also said the Russian conspirators wanted to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy.

"We must not allow them to succeed," he said.

Trump also highlighted that Russian efforts to meddle in the election began before he announced his candidacy. The White House said in a statement that the indictment shows "there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected."

In 2016, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russian agents -- with knowledge and approval by the Kremlin -- engaged in a meddling campaign to disrupt the November 2016 vote.

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