Distinct From Mueller Probe, US Charges Russian Lawyer at Trump Tower Meeting

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an April 22, 2018, interview in Moscow, Russia. Veselnitskaya, the Moscow lawyer said to have promised Donald Trump’s presidential campaign dirt on his Democratic opponent, worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she previously let on, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer whose 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has come under scrutiny by the special counsel’s office, was indicted Tuesday in a separate case tied to money laundering.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman announced the obstruction charge this morning, saying that Veselnitskaya fabricated evidence and made “false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge” as part of her role assisting Denis Katsyv, the son of a Russian government official, in the case against his Cyprus-based company Prevezon Holdings.

The United States accused Prevezon in that case of stashing $230 million laundered from a tax-fraud scheme orchestrated by the Russian mafia. Though the case mysteriously settled on the eve of trial in 2017, Veselnitskaya initially vied for dismissal by coordinating with Russia on a mutual legal assistance treaty.

Berman said Tuesday that Veselnitskaya used the MLAT process to cook evidence that would clear her client.

“Fabricating evidence – submitting false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge – in an attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation not only undermines the integrity of the judicial process, but it threatens the ability of our courts and our government to ensure that justice is done,” Berman said in a statement.

Veselnitskaya submitted a declaration asserting that the investigative findings of the Russian government had been independently drafted.

“In truth and in fact, and as Veselnitskaya well knew but concealed from the court,” the 18-page indictment states, “Veselnitskaya, a member of the defense team in the Prevezon action, had participated in drafting those supposed independent investigative findings in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor.”

Prosecutors say the “supposed findings purported to exonerate all Russian government personnel of the Russian Treasury fraud,” as well as an unnamed “Real Estate Company-1,” described in the indictment as a defendant and claimant in the Prevezon case.

This appears to refer to Prevezon, and the indictment mentions emails that Veselnitskaya sent between 2014 and 2017.

“In one of these emails, Veselnitskaya also copied the father of the owner of Real Estate Company-1,” the indictment states, apparently referring to Pyotr Katsyv, her client’s father and the former transportation minister in Moscow.

The Prevezon case is most commonly associated with the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower who was killed in a Moscow prison shortly after exposing the scheme. Magnitsky’s death sparked global sanctions and outcry against human rights abuses in Russia.

The death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 inspired Congress to adopt human-rights sanctions against Russia.

Prosecutors claim that Veseltnitskaya fabricated evidence to blame the fraud on “Investment Company-1,” an apparent reference to Hermitage Capital Management, which hired Magnitsky to investigate the sprawling tax fraud.

Stung by global criticism, the Russian government hatched a conspiracy theory blaming the fraud on Hermitage and its founder, Bill Browder. Veseltnitskaya promoted a film titled “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” absolving the Russian government of responsibility for the money-laundering scheme and vilifying Browder.

Browder tweeted in response to Veseltnitskaya’s indictment today: “This is the definition of Karma.”

“Natalia Veselnitskaya indicted by the US Department of Justice for obstruction of justice as she lied in the money laundering case connected to the Magnitsky murder,” he added.

The forfeiture charges against Prevezon were brought by Berman’s predecessor, then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin then banned from visiting his country.

Putin also retaliated against U.S. sanctions by blocking adoptions from Russia.

Veselnitskaya, 43, remains at large. Her indictment in New York is unrelated to the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. 

President Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort have faced scrutiny as part of this probe for meeting with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016.

Trump Jr. later claimed they “mostly talked about adoptions.”

Two years before attaining a majority, House Democrats questioned the relatively paltry $5.9 million settlement that averted a trial in the Prevezon case.

“Why was a Russian money-laundering case involving more than $230 million dismissed without explanation?” Rep. John Conyers asked in July 2017. “Why was a central figure in that case chosen to approach the Trump campaign about assistance from the Russian government?”

A Michigan Democrat, Conyers noted at the time that Bharara was fired shortly before the deal was struck.

Prevezon fought payment of the settlement until U.S. District Judge William Pauley III enforced it early last year. 

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