A Russian woman has been charged with spying for Moscow in the US by infiltrating the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an attempt to influence the Republican party and American politics. Maria Butina, who purported to be a pro-gun activist, met American politicians and candidates to establish “back channels” and secretly reported back to the Kremlin through a high-level Russian official, according to the US justice department.

Prosecutors said in a statement that Butina, 29, had been “developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organisations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation”.

Butina was charged with conspiracy to act as a Russian agent within the US without notifying the attorney general. She was arrested on Sunday and appeared before a magistrate in Washington on Monday, officials said. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said investigators had searched Butina’s laptop computer and mobile phone. The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.

Butina has come under increasing scrutiny amid the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Footage emerged of her asking Trump a question in front of an audience at a conservative event in July 2015. She is known as a protege of Alexander Torshin, a senior official at the Russian central bank, who is also a longtime associate of the NRA. Torshin, who met Donald Trump Jr at an NRA event in 2016, was placed under sanction by the US in April.

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