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WASHINGTON (CNN/AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice has announced.
In addition, three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.
Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any connections between Russia and Trump campaign associates.
The indictment, brought by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, alleges that Russians used bogus social media postings and advertisements fraudulently purchased in the name of Americans to sway political opinion during the race between Republican Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
The charges are the most direct allegation to date of illegal Russian meddling in the election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says the indictment does not allege that Russian meddling altered the outcome of presidential election.
Rosenstein said the indictment does not contain any allegations that any Americans knowingly participated in the activity.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he said. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Beginning as early as 2014, the Russian organization Internet Research Agency began operations to interfere with the US political system, including the 2016 elections, according to the indictment, which was released by Mueller’s office Friday.
The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas, and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences, the indictment reads.
The Internet Research Agency had a “strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system” including the election, according to the indictment.
Russians posted “derogatory information about a number of candidates,” and by mid-2016 they supported Trump and disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with “unwitting” people tied to Trump campaign and others to coordinate political activities.
One of those indicted is a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is an entrepreneur from St. Petersburg who’s been dubbed “Putin’s chef” by Russian media.
His restaurants and catering businesses have hosted the Kremlin leader’s dinners with foreign dignitaries. In the more than 10 years since establishing a relationship with Putin, his business has expanded to services for the military.
Prigozhin’s assets also include an oil trading firm that reportedly has been sending private Russian fighters to Syria. Prigozhin is on the list of those sanctioned by the US.
(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. CNN contributed to this report.)
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