US-Russian dual national charged with acting illegally as a Russian agent in the United States | USAO-SDNY


Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Matthew G. Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Michael J. Driscoll, Deputy Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the filing of a complaint accusing ELENA BRANSON, a dual Russian and American citizen, of having acted and conspired to act illegally in the United States as an agent of the Russian government , willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), as well as conspiracy to commit visa fraud and make false statements to the FBI. As alleged, beginning at least 2011, BRANSON worked on behalf of the Russian government and Russian officials to advance Russian interests in the United States, including coordinating meetings for Russian officials to lobby officials American politicians and businessmen, and by operating organizations in the United States for the purpose of publicly promoting the policies of the Russian government, and BRANSON never briefed the Attorney General as she was required to, including by registering with FARA.

US Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Elena Branson, a dual US/Russian national, actively subverted US foreign agent registration laws in order to promote Russian policies and ideology. The Russian government at its highest levels, including President Vladimir Putin, has made it clear that aggressive propaganda and recruitment of the Russian diaspora around the world is a Russian priority. As part of this lawsuit, Branson reportedly corresponded with Putin himself and met with a high-ranking Russian minister before founding a Russian propaganda center here in New York, the New York Russian Center. Branson’s promotional outreach, including an “I love Russia” campaign aimed at young Americans, exemplifies his attempts to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote his interests in the United States. All the while, 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. 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.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said, “As alleged, Branson engaged in an extensive program of influence and lobbying with funding and direction from the Russian government – ​​while deliberately leaving the American people in the dark. . The Department will continue to expose these serious crimes and bring malign foreign influence to light. »

FBI Deputy Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said, “As alleged, Branson worked as an illegal agent of the Russian government circumventing FARA requirements. At the direction of the Russian government, she conducted a campaign years to identify the next generation of U.S. leaders, cultivate information channels, and shape U.S. policy in support of Russian goals. This case highlights the extent of Russia’s relentless intelligence and malign influence activities targeting the U.S. The FBI will continue to be equally aggressive in uncovering and dismantling these Russian government networks that seek to harm our national security.

According to the allegations contained in the lawsuit filed today in Manhattan federal court[1]:

The Russian government has sought to spread Russian propaganda and use Russian citizens in the United States and elsewhere to establish ties with American community leaders, politicians, and businesspeople, in order to advance Russian government goals. . Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, have made public statements acknowledging this foreign policy strategy by the Russian government.

As part of this Russian government effort, beginning at least around 2011, BRANSON, a native of Russia, illegally acted as an agent of the Russian government while living in the United States, not not registering in accordance with FARA or otherwise notifying the Attorney General. as required by separate law. Among other things, in or around 2012, after receiving approval from the highest levels of the Russian government, BRANSON incorporated an organization headquartered in Manhattan, New York, named the Russian Center of New York (“RCNY”). ). BRANSON sent correspondence to then-Prime Minister Putin and met with a high-ranking Russian minister as part of the launch of his activities for the Russian government in the United States. BRANSON has received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government for the RCNY and has used the RCNY to organize events and engage in public messaging under the direction of the Russian government and Russian officials. BRANSON was responsible, among other things, for organizing events intended to strengthen the community of young Russian speakers in the United States. For example, BRANSON and the RCNY have organized an annual youth forum, funded in part by an entity controlled by the Moscow government. Throughout his work as a Russian agent in the United States, BRANSON received funds and directives from the Russian government, including from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and received assignments from senior officials of the Russian government and organizations run by the Russian government. At the same time, however, BRANSON actively sought to conceal that the Russian government was giving her tasks and financing her activity and she ordered her co-conspirators to do the same. She also cautioned others against using language in describing their activities that would draw attention to FARA’s registration obligations for herself and organizations.

As alleged, in or around 2019, BRANSON coordinated through the RCNY a campaign to pressure Hawaiian officials not to change the name of a fort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which is the last remaining old Russian fort in the Hawaiian Islands and is significant. to the Russian government. Among other things, BRANSON 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 Russian government officials.

In addition to the RCNY, BRANSON served as chairman of the Russian Community Council of the United States (“KSORS”), which is funded at least in part by various Russian government-run entities. Among other things, KSORS coordinated an “I Love Russia” campaign in the United States and organized youth forums focused on promoting Russian history and culture to young Americans. BRANSON used the KSORS website to promote Russian Embassy messages and hosted KSORS events approved by the Russian Ambassador to the United States. When BRANSON requested financial support from a Moscow government official for the KSORS website, BRANSON indicated that the purpose of the KSORS website was to disseminate information “about the activities of organizations established by Russian compatriots to train a positive image of Russia and Moscow among Americans”. .”

According to the complaint, BRANSON’s work on behalf of the Russian government also included arranging meetings for herself and other Russian officials with US government officials and US-based business executives. For example, in March 2016, BRANSON worked to 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 leadership of certain American companies.

BRANSON also participated in a scheme to obtain fraudulent visas for Russian officials and their associates, providing information about RCNY events to these individuals to use as false pretenses to obtain visas to enter the United States.

The FBI interviewed BRANSON on September 29, 2020. During this interview, among other things, BRANSON falsely claimed that she had never been invited by Russian officials to coordinate meetings between U.S. business leaders or politicians. and Moscow government officials. BRANSON then left the United States for Russia. On or about October 15, 2021, during an interview on a Russian government-controlled TV channel, BRANSON said that she left the United States because she thought it was likely that she would be stopped.

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BRANSON, 61, is charged with (1) conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the attorney general, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; (2) acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison; (3) conspiring to evade FARA registration, punishable by up to five years in prison; (4) willful failure to register under FARA, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; (5) conspiracy to commit visa fraud, punishable by up to five years in prison; and (6) making false statements to the FBI, punishable by up to five years in prison. The maximum legal penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any conviction of the accused would be determined by a judge.

BRANSON left the United States for Russia in 2020 and remains at large.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and its New York Field Office, Counterintelligence Division, and thanked the Justice Department’s National Security Division, Counterintelligence and Intelligence Section. export control, for their assistance.

The case is being handled by the Bureau’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Richman is in charge of the case, with assistance from Attorney Scott Claffee of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

The charges in the Complaint are charges only and the Defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

[1] As the introductory sentence indicates, the complaint and the description of the complaint set forth herein are allegations only, and each fact described should be treated as an allegation.


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