Federal prosecutors are dropping charges against the parent company of Russia’s infamous troll farm, saying that pursuing the case isn’t worth the risk of disclosing classified secrets to the Russian intelligence-linked firm.
In a motion filed late Monday, prosecutors argued that the government should drop conspiracy charges against Concord Management because the “balance of equities has shifted” in seeking justice against the company. Concord Management, owned by a former catering entrepreneur who grew close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the parent company of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm responsible for cranking out thousands of Facebook posts, advertisements, and tweets aimed at tipping the balance of the 2016 election in President Trump’s favor on behalf of the Russian government.
Concord made the unusual decision to contest the charges against it, despite the fact that it refused to send a corporate representative to the U.S. to answer for the company. Throughout the trial, the company refused to comply with subpoenas for documents and its attorneys at times appeared to mock the proceedings—earning a rebuke from Judge Dabney Friedrich for one profanity-laced filing.
More concerning for prosecutors is the fact that information shared with Concord during the course of discovery proceeded to show up in Russian troll posts mocking the Mueller investigation. A recent ruling by Judge Friedrich over the use of classified information could “expose additional details about law enforcement’s tools and techniques for investigating malign foreign influence, among other crimes, potentially undermining their effectiveness.”
In short, a trial which could risk the exposure of classified information to a Russian intelligence-linked company “with no presence in the United States and no exposure to meaningful punishment in the event of a conviction, promotes neither the interests of justice nor the nation’s security,” the government concluded.
The withdrawal of charges against Concord hasn’t put an end to the Justice Department’s criminal case against the Russian trolls who interfered in the 2016 election. Thirteen Russian employees of Concord Management, working for the Internet Research Agency, were charged variously with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and identity theft under the same indictment—and those charges still stand. Prosecutors also charged IRA’s top accountant, Elena Khusyaynova, on conspiracy charges for her role in the 2016 meddling in a separate complaint filed in 2018.
Concord Management and its owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also remain sanctioned under a number of executive orders.
But it remains unlikely that Concord or any of its employees will see the inside of a courtroom absent a decision to travel to a country that has an extradition agreement with the U.S.
Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, an employee of the IRA charged alongside its parent company, Concord Management, has given taunting interviews to news outlets in the West where he alternately denies, downplays, or makes light of his association with the IRA and claims that the charges against him haven’t changed much in his life beyond travel plans.
“The United States will continue its efforts to apprehend the individual defendants and bring them before this Court to face the pending charges,” prosecutors vowed at the end of their Monday filing.