A Russian business whose accountant was charged by federal prosecutor for endeavoring to interfere in U.S. elections sued Facebook Inc. on Tuesday, asserting it is a legitimate news outlet and its Facebook accounts should be reinstated.

The Federal Agency of News LLC, known as FAN, and its sole stockholder, Eygeniy Zubarey, filed the lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of California, looking for damages and an order to stop Facebook from blocking its account.

Facebook removed FAN’s account in April as it purged pages connected to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency. The action was determined by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year for flooding social media with wrong information in an offer to sow discord in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election.

Facebook did not answer to a request for remark. Pete Carr, a spokesperson for Mueller, declined to comment.

FAN and Zubarey said they were inappropriately swept up in Facebook’s purge which removed more than 270 Russian language accounts and pages, according to the complaint.

"FAN is an independent, authentic and legitimate news agency which publishes reports that are relevant and of interest to the general public," the company said in the lawsuit.


The lawsuit contended that Facebook had effectively acted as an arm of the administration in an inappropriate manner on its right to free address, and referred to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in claiming Facebook discriminated against it because of its Russian origins.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, described those contentions as weak and forecast the complainants would have a hard time gaining any grip in the courts.

"It's safe to say this lawsuit is not going to be very successful," he said. "At first glance it seems like a PR stunt to me."

FAN recognized before then having a similar office building as the Internet Research Agency and said it has employed Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, the Russian charged by prosecutors a month ago because of trying to interfere in the 2018 congressional elections as its chief accountant since August 2016.

Khusyaynova was the chief accountant for Project Lakhta, according to the charging documents in her situation, which is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. lawyers in the Justice Department's Eastern District of Virginia.

However, the complainants said Khusyaynova's part in the company has been restricted to secretarial tasks and that she was not an officer and had no discretion over editorial content.

The complainants also said they were not connected with "Venture Lakhta," a Kremlin-backed information fighting campaign that U.S. prosecutors say was began in 2014 and financed by Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" because of his catering business and its ties to the Kremlin, was designated in February together with the Internet Research Agency which he controls.

A spokesperson for the region did not answer to a request for remark.

Mueller is not handling Khusyaynova's case because his focus is on the 2016 presidential election and the charges against her connected with the 2018 midterm elections.

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