Updated at 10:19,19-11-2019

Russian troll freed in Belarus after arrest for US election tampering

Marc Bennetts in Moscow, The Guardian

Russian troll freed in Belarus after arrest for US election tampering
Robert Mueller alleges that Anna Bogacheva and others posed as US citizens to set up social media accounts aimed at swaying the 2016 presidential vote. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters
Anna Bogacheva was detained and briefly threatened with extradition to the US after being named in Mueller report.

A Russian national charged with attempting to meddle in the 2016 American presidential elections was briefly threatened with extradition to the United States after being arrested in Belarus, before she was was freed by local authorities.

Anna Bogacheva was detained late on Monday evening by police at a hotel in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, while on holiday with her family, according to RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency. Her lawyer said she had been detained under an international arrest warrant issued by the United States.

Bogacheva was one of 13 Russians indicted last year by the US justice department after the investigation into election interference led by the special counsel Robert Mueller. Three Russian entities, including a notorious state-backed “troll farm” called the Internet Research Agency, were also indicted.



Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed on Tuesday that Bogacheva had been arrested and said that it was providing consular assistance. But shortly after the foreign ministry statement, Russia’s embassy in Minsk announced that Bogacheva had been freed.

A spokesman for Belarus’ general prosecutor’s office said that there were “no grounds” for her arrest or extradition to the United States. “She has been released,” the spokesman said, adding that Minsk would apply to have the international warrant for her arrest invalidated on the territory of Belarus.

Mueller alleges that the St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency’s employees, including Bogacheva, posed as US citizens to set up social media accounts aimed at swaying the 2016 presidential vote that brought Donald Trump to power, as well as sowing “discord” in the US political system.

US investigators say the Internet Research Agency is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman known as “Putin’s chef” because his companies often provide catering services to the Kremlin. Prigozhin is also reported to provide mercenaries for Russia’s military operations in Syria, Ukraine and parts of Africa.

Bogacheva is accused of working as a translator for the agency and overseeing its data analysis group. She and Alexander Krylova, another agency employee, travelled to the United States in June 2014 on what US investigators say was an intelligence gathering trip.

Bogacheva’s arrest in Minsk briefly looked set to derail relations between Belarus and Russia. Viktor Vodolatsky, an MP from Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, accused Belarus of a “betrayal” before news of her release broke.