Federal prosecutors charged a Russian man who allegedly worked as a manager in the Russian government’s US-election interference efforts with conspiracy to steal the identities of Americans to open bank and cryptocurrency accounts.
The charges announced Thursday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, against Artem Mikhaylovich Lifshits, 27, of St. Petersburg, Russia, were part of the US government’s public response against Russians who the US says are involved in the Russian election interference operation.
The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Lifshits and two others allegedly part of what the US named Project Lakhta, the Russian-based effort to conduct political and electoral influence in the US ahead of the November elections.
The Trump administration said that the so-called Project Lakhta has been working since 2014 to disrupt and sow distrust of the US political system and against candidates for public office. The project concealed its work through groups such as the Internet Research Agency, whose members were charged with crimes by special counsel Robert Mueller. Lifshits allegedly worked as a manager for the Translator Department, which was responsible for much of the Russian project’s ongoing influence operations, according to Justice Department prosecutors.
Lifshits is believed to be in Russia and CNN couldn’t locate him to seek comment.
Prosecutors alleged that Lifshits and others stole the identities of real Americans to open bank and cryptocurrency accounts, which were used to conduct the Russian operation and for his own personal benefit.
The criminal charges don’t include any allegations of Americans knowingly participating in the Russian influence operation, the Justice Department said.
The affidavit by a US Secret Service agent submitted to the court also refers to a CNN investigation in Ghana earlier this year. Working with two researchers at Clemson University, Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, CNN uncovered the existence of a Ghanaian NGO called Eliminating Barriers for the Liberation of Africa (EBLA), which was a cover for a Russian trolling operation. It was one element of Project Lakhta.
The affidavit refers to one Twitter account connected to EBLA which CNN uncovered and tracked: @africamustwake.
It also quotes from a CNN interview in Ghana in March with a former EBLA employee. She said that she and other EBLA employees “were told that the best time to tweet and post was late afternoon and at night in Ghana, which are times when a United States audience would have been active.”
The affidavit also mentions a job opening posted by EBLA early in 2020 – which was first reported by CNN – for an activist to be based in South Carolina.
CNN’s Tim Lister contributed to this report.