The United States Justice Department announced Tuesday that a dual U.S. and Russian citizen, who is said to have corresponded with Vladamir Putin, had been charged for allegedly working as an unregistered Russian agent.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York issued a press release stating it had filed a criminal complaint against Elena Branson, 61, who has not been arrested as she allegedly fled America for Russia in 2020. The charges come amid high tensions between the United States and Russia, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. sanctions that followed. According to the release, Branson faces numerous charges, including “acting and conspiring to act in the United States illegally as an agent of the Russian government, willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (‘FARA’), as well as conspiring to commit visa fraud and making false statements to the FBI.”

Branson allegedly began her work on behalf of the Russian government as early as at least 2011 “to advance Russian interests in the United States,” the Justice Department states. Branson was tasked with setting up meetings for “Russian officials to lobby U.S. political officials and businesspersons, and by operating organizations in the United States for the purpose of publicly promoting Russian government policies,” the Justice Department alleges. Moreover, she failed to alert the Attorney general of her status as an agent by registering under FARA, the release stated.

In or about in 2012, Branson incorporated the “Russian Center New York” (RCNY), headquartered in Manhattan, after receiving a green light from top Russian government officials, the Justice Department states in the release, citing the criminal complaint. Damien Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Branson allegedly corresponded with then-Prime Minister Vladamir Putin “and met with a high-ranking Russia minister before founding” the RCNY, which Williams dubbed a “propaganda center.”

Accused Russian agent, Elena Branson, reportedly coordinated with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, pictured above, for the opening of the Russian Center in Manhattan, New York. (Photo taken on February 17, 2011) (AP Photo/ RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, pool)

Dual citizen and accused of acting as an illegal Russian agent, Elena Branson, allegedly corresponded with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, pictured above, around the time the Russian Center, in Manhattan, New York, opened. (Photo taken on February 17, 2011) (AP Photo/ RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, pool)

Branson “and the RCNY have received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian Government and have taken direct orders from Russian officials concerning events and public messaging,” the complaint alleges. Throughout her time as an agent, the Russian Embassy in Wahington, DC, allegedly gave Branson both direction and funding. Branson, who allegedly worked to conceal that she received funding and orders from Russian officials, told co-conspirators to steer clear of “using language in describing their activities that would draw attention to FARA registration obligations for herself and the organizations,” the Justice Department stated.

Using the RCNY in 2019, Branson allegedly carried out a campaign to lobby Hawaiian Officials over a potential name change of the last remaining former Russian fort in the Hawaiian islands on the island of Kauai. Branson allegedly “provided Hawaiian officials with messages from Russian government officials and organized a trip to Moscow for Hawaiian officials responsible for the potential name change to meet with high-ranking Russian government personnel,” the release asserts.

Branson also served as Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS) Chair. KSORS is partly funded by Russian government institutions and coordinated a campaign called “I Love Russia.” “Branson’s promotional outreach, including an ‘I Love Russia’ campaign aimed at American youths, exemplifies her attempts to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote its interests in the United States,” Williams said.

Branson’s alleged illegal work also entailed coordinating meetings between U.S. government officials and business executives with Russian officials, such as a March 2016 meeting involving a state senator from New York, managers from multiple U.S. companies, and the head of Russia’s Department of Foreign Affairs Economic Activity and International Relations.

Branson allegedly took part in a fraudulent visa scheme, where she would provide information to Russian officials regarding RCNY events to use “as false pretenses to obtain visas to enter the United States,” the Justice Department notes.

In late September of 2020, the FBI interviewed Branson, who they say falsely claimed Russian officials never asked her to set up meetings with American officials or business executives, the Justice Department said. Following the interview, she left the United States and flew to Russia on approximately October 20, 2020, the complaint states. On October 15 of last year, she appeared on Russian television and said she left the United States as she became concerned she would be arrested, according to the Justice Department.

The combined charges carry a maximum sentence of 35 years.

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