Senior NRA figures met with the wife of Konstantin Nikolaev, who allegedly gave financial support to Butina
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.
Nikolaevas 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 wifes gun company.
The finding sheds further light on the links forged in recent years between Americas powerful gun lobby and well-connected Russians. US prosecutors allege Butinas activities were directed by Alexander Torshin, a senior Russian state banker and an NRA member.
The NRA and Nikolaevs companies did not respond to requests for comment.
No senior NRA official has made any public statement about Butinas 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 Butinas 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 Butinas 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, Russias president. His son, Andrey, volunteered for Donald Trumps presidential campaign, according to the Post.
Nikolaevs wife, Svetlana, is an accomplished gun user who has competed in shooting competitions in the US and Israel. She is the president of Promtechnologies, the parent company of Orsis, and has played a prominent role in the firms expansion.
Last year, Orsis began supplying its acclaimed T-5000 sniper rifle to Russias armed forces and Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. The companys general director and chief gun designer, Vladimir Zlobin, is a former FSB official, according to his biography at a university operated by Russias ministry of foreign affairs.
Nikolaev has been named in several Russian media reports in recent years as an early investor in Orsiss parent company. But the company insisted he was not currently an owner of the firm. Mr Nikolaev is not connected with the company, an unidentified spokesperson said in an email. Asked whether Nikolaev held a stake in the company in the past, the spokesperson said: He is not involved with the company today. Further questions were not answered.
In December 2015, an NRA delegation including Pete Brownell, then the NRAs first vice-president, and David Keene, a past NRA president, visited Russia for an expedition partly funded by Right to Bear Arms, a Russian pro-gun group run by Butina with help from Torshin, her alleged government handler.