Thirteen people and three companies have been charged with political tampering, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. The indictment said some defendants communicated with unwitting members of the Trump campaign.
US special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies with tampering in the country's political process, the US Department of Justice confirmed on Friday.
The indictment lists a multimillion dollar scheme with a timeframe from 2014 to the present, "including the presidential election of 2016."
The defendants are also accused of an elaborate plot "disparaging Hillary Clinton" and promoting the campaign of President Donald Trump using divisive fake social media posts and advertisements across a variety of platforms and purchased in the names of American citizens. The ultimate goal of the group was to "sow discord in the US political system."
The unsealed document alleges that Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, managed the group that was based in St. Petersburg but also made trips to the US states of Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and New York in the hopes of swaying the so-called "purple states" into voting for Trump.
The charges also allege that the interference included encouraging "US minority groups not to vote in the 2016 US presidential election or to vote for a third-party...candidate."
Although only 13 people are named in the indictment, the election meddling allegedly involved "hundreds" of people working round-the-clock shifts.
Russian Foreign Ministry: Charges 'absurd'
Prigozhin said he was not upset by the indictment, telling Russian news agency RIA that "Americans are very emotional," and see what they want to see.
A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry dismissed the charges as "absurd."
The charges also include conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. They stem from Mueller's investigation into whether there was illegal coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressed that "there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity."
"This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the internet," Rosenstein told reporters. "The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed."
President Trump wrote on Twitter that his campaign "did nothing wrong."
In a separate filing, Mueller indicted a Californian man named Richard Pinedo for selling bank accounts, which unbeknownst to Pinedo were going to the Russian meddlers. Pinedo has pled guilty to the charges.
es/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)