Senior members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) met the wife of the Russian billionaire who allegedly gave financial support to a woman accused of being a secret agent for Moscow in the US.
The NRA members met Svetlana Nikolaeva, who is the head of a gun company that supplies sniper rifles to the Russian military and intelligence services, during a trip to Moscow during the 2016 election campaign.
Nikolaeva’s husband, Konstantin Nikolaev, allegedly provided funding to Maria Butina, a young Russian woman charged with carrying out an illicit spying operation in Washington. Nikolaev reportedly once invested in his wife’s gun company.
The finding sheds further light on the links forged in recent years between America’s powerful gun lobby and well-connected Russians. US prosecutors allege Butina’s activities were directed by Alexander Torshin, a senior Russian state banker and an NRA member.
The NRA and Nikolaev’s companies did not respond to requests for comment.
No senior NRA official has made any public statement about Butina’s case since news of the charges was announced by the US justice department on 16 July.
Butina, 29, was arrested this month and charged with illegally operating as a foreign agent. She is accused of working to infiltrate the NRA as part of an attempt to influence the Republican party and establish secret backchannels with American politicians. She has pleaded not guilty and denies any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors said that her emails and online chats contained details of a Russian billionaire with “deep ties” to the Kremlin, who was described as Butina’s “funder”. He was not identified in the charging documents, but was said to have a personal fortune valued at $1.2bn by Forbes magazine.
During her testimony to the Senate intelligence committee in April, Butina said Nikolaev had given her financial support, the Washington Post reported. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that a representative for Nikolaev confirmed he gave money to Butina’s gun rights group between 2012 and 2014.
Forbes currently estimates the net worth of Nikolaev, a transportation magnate, as $1.2bn. Nikolaev has been involved in several business projects connected to allies of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. His son, Andrey, volunteered for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to the Post.