May 9 (UPI) — A Russian company special counsel investigators accused of waging “information warfare” during the 2016 U.S. presidential election pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges.
Two attorneys representing the firm, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, appeared in court for an arraignment in Washington, D.C., pleading not guilty to charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
Concord Management lawyer Eric Dubelier said Wednesday the company intends to contest the charges leveled against it.
In February, the Department of Justice announced the charges against the company, as well as two other firms and 13 Russian nationals. The indictment stemmed from an investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Russian government meddled in the presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that effort.
The defendants, posing as persons located inside the United States, created false personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract American audiences, the indictment says.
The defendants also allegedly stole identities of U.S. citizens to post on organization-controlled social media accounts.
Rosenstein said defendants conducted “information warfare” against the United States to spread distrust toward the candidates and the U.S. political system in general.
Prosecutors say a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency with a $1 million annual budget employed hundreds of people in online operations — ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support personnel. The company operated out of offices in St. Petersburg.
Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering were the Internet Research Agency’s primary source of funding, the indictment says.
Among the individuals named in the February indictment is Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who allegedly controlled Concord and supported the Internet Research Agency’s operations. He allegedly had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been dubbed “Putin’s chief.”
The Justice Department said those charged set up hundreds of accounts on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to make it appear like people in the United States owned them.
The indictment also charges them with using stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts and false identification documents so they could pose as politically and socially active Americans.
“For example, the defendants organized one rally to support [then-President-elect Donald Trump] and another rally to oppose him, both in New York on the same day,” Rosenstein said. “After the election, the defendants allegedly staged rallies to support the president while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election.”