WASHINGTON — Thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were charged Friday with an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
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.
The goal, the indictment says, was to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said no Americans were “knowing participants” in what federal prosecutors call an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment does not allege that Russian meddling altered the outcome of presidential election.
Charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
One of those indicted in the Russia probe 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 U.S.
Two other Russian nationals indicted traveled to the United States to gather intelligence in June 2014 and visited several states, including Illinois, according to the indictment. No further details were offered on the purpose of the Illinois visit.
The charges arise from Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and whether there was improper coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Before Friday, four people, including Trump’s former national security adviser and former campaign chairman, had been charged in Mueller’s investigation.
The White House had no immediate response to the indictment.