The Department of Justice claims that more than a decade after becoming a U.S. citizen, Elena Branson became a spy on behalf of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.
She was born in Russia and emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union at the age of 30. Nine years later, in 1999, she became an American citizen. Branson, now 61, is accused of violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA, and failing to properly inform the U.S. government she was working on behalf of the Kremlin.
“Elena Branson… actively subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States in order to promote Russian policies and ideology,” according to Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Branson is alleged to have corresponded with Putin himself and met with a high-ranking Russia minister before founding a Russian propaganda center here in New York City, the Russian Center New York.”
The 36-page, six-count criminal complaint, filed in federal court Tuesday, shows Branson’s subterfuge began in 2011. According to court documents, she is also known as Elena Chernykh.
She is accused of taking part in a Putin-backed campaign to spread pro-Kremlin propaganda and to network Russian citizens with influential Americans as well as corresponding directly with Putin and other Kremlin officials.
She arranged meetings between a Moscow official and U.S. politicians and business leaders in March and April 2016.
She faces charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the attorney general, acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the attorney general, conspiring to evade FARA registration, willfully failing to register under FARA, conspiring to commit visa fraud and lying to the FBI.
Branson is currently “at large” in Russia and if convicted on all counts, she could face a maximum of 35 years in prison.