WASHINGTON (CN) – One of the Russian companies that special counsel Robert Mueller has accused of funding the troll farms used to disrupt the 2016 presidential election pleaded not guilty Wednesday in U.S. federal court.
Eric Dubelier, an attorney with the firm Reed Smith, said St. Petersburg-based Concord Management and Consulting LLC authorized him to enter the plea.
“We exercise our right to a speedy trial,” Dubelier said during a 15-minute arraignment hearing this afternoon.
Dubelier said his client Concord is aware of the pending charge, conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum fine of $500,000.
The firm is one of two controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and caterer known as “Putin’s chef” for his ties to the Russian president. Of the three companies and 13 Russian nationals that Mueller’s team indicted on Feb. 16, Concord Management and Consulting is the first to respond to the charges.
Prigozhin is accused of using the companies to fund the main defendant in the case – the Internet Research Agency – and is one of the 13 individuals facing a charge of conspiracy for plotting to sow political discord to interfere with the 2016 election.
According to the 37-page indictment, the defendants in the case began conspiring in 2014 to help the Internet Research Agency disrupt the American political system. Prosecutors say they did so using false American identities to obtain likewise fake accounts on social media, spreading disinformation and divisive political material among American audiences ahead of the election.
Appearing for the Office of Special Counsel, Justice Department attorney Jeannine Rhee pointed to a Reed Smith filing with the Office of Foreign Assets Control to question whether Dubelier was also appearing on behalf of the other Prigozhin-controlled company – Concord Catering – which is also named in the indictment for funding the disruption effort.
Dubelier said he found the question “disturbing,” raising the question of whether Mueller’s team had accessed confidential OFAC documents about his clients.
Saying the government indicted “the proverbial ham sandwich,” Dubelier told the court that he does indeed represent Concord Catering, but that the company did not exist at the time of the alleged activity, so he lacked authorization to enter a plea on its behalf Wednesday.
Both Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering are sanctioned entities, according to Treasury Department records.
In a court filing over the weekend, Rhee said efforts to serve Concord in Russia had faltered and that Dubelier had failed to confirm he could accept a summons on behalf of Concord. That prompted the government to seek a delay in Wednesday’s arraignment but U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied the motion on Saturday.
Dubelier meanwhile insisted that the special counsel’s team had ignored federal criminal rules of procedure to serve the summons.
The Internet Research Agency did not appear with counsel in court Wednesday afternoon. Rhee asked Harvey for another 60 days to serve the Internet Research Agency, along with Concord Catering. When Harvey asked Dubelier if that works for him, the attorney drew laughter with his response.
“I don’t think we really care,” he said.
The next hearing in the Concord Management and Consulting case will take place on May 16.