Lies in Mueller Probe Send Dutch Attorney to Prison

Alex van der Zwaan arrives at court in Washington on April 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Alex van der Zwaan, the attorney who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison Tuesday.

The term, which includes a $20,000 fine, is the first sentence handed down in the special counsel’s investigation.

A 33-year-old Dutch citizen who was born in Belgium, Van der Zwaan has a wife in London who is due to give birth in August. That wife is the daughter of Russian oligarch German Khan, owner of the Alfa Group.

Defense attorney William Schwartz of Cooley LLP asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson for leniency, requesting a fine and permission for Van der Zwaan to travel to London immediately.

Judge Jackson determined Tuesday morning, however, that she had to consider the nature of the offense in addition to Van der Zwaan’s character in determining the appropriate punishment.

As part of his plea, Van der Zwaan admitted to withholding pertinent emails from Mueller’s team and deleting others from his own personal email account.

“He did whatever he could to correct this record,” Schwartz said, noting that his client disclosed to investigators after the fact that he had destroyed email evidence.

After his Nov. 3 interview with Mueller’s team, Van der Zwaan decided to return to the United States a few weeks later to correct the lies he told during that first interview.

During a November interview with the special counsel’s team, Van der Zwaan admitted lying to investigators about his communications with former Trump campaign associate Rick Gates and a Ukrainian business associate with ties to Russian intelligence.

The latter individual is described only as Person A in court filings, but other news outlets, citing people familiar with the matter, have said Person A is Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine, Konstantin V. Kilimnik.

Van der Zwaan had worked closely with Gates and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort to compile a report for the former Ukrainian government concerning the trial of Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Schwartz highlighted the risk Van der Zwaan faced in returning to the U.S. to correct the record, noting that he faced the possibility of arrest.

After he returned to the U.S., Van der Zwaan surrendered his passport. He currently resides in a hotel with no job.

“He is literally in limbo,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz also noted that his client is “miserable” and “suffering” from being untethered to his surroundings without a routine.

“Every call from us, every call from home brings anxiety,” Schwartz said.

According to information disclosed in court filings and court proceedings, Van der Zwaan’s wife is in the sixth month of what has been described as a difficult pregnancy.

“She needs him now, not three months from now,” Schwartz said.

But Jackson balked at this line of reasoning, taking note of the government’s argument that Van der Zwaan – an attorney – was explicitly warned about lying to Mueller’s team.

“They were not mistakes, they were lies,” she said before handing down her sentence.

Van der Zwaan has said he lied to investigators to conceal the fact he had recorded conversations with Gates and Person A, in addition to a senior partner at his former law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, who worked on the Tymoshenko report. According to prosecutors, the firm had been retained to work on the report.

Person A had told Van der Zwaan that the new Ukrainian government might file charges against him, along with other Skadden attorney he worked with on the Tymoshenko report.

Van der Zwaan, who has since been fired from the firm, said his concern over the conversation prompted him to begin recording his conversations.

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said that Skadden had been retained to work on the report, and that Van der Zwaan had repeatedly undermined that work by leaking a copy of the report and providing Gates with points on how to skim it, against the express wishes of Skadden.

Noting his deceit of his former employer, Weissmann said Van der Zwaan’s lies to federal investigators were not “an isolated incident.”

“It’s a history of conduct that is either criminal or shows a real lack of morality,” Weismann said.

Though prosecutors offered no sentencing recommendation, Weissmann pushed for more than a fine.

“People need to know there are consequences to withholding documents and there are consequences to lying to investigators,” he said.

Jackson agreed, noting that Van der Zwaan began lying and covering up long before he lied to federal agents.

Jackson gave him credit for returning to the U.S. to correct the record, and noted his impressive educational and professional background, but said that also means he should have known better.

“This is not something that happened to him,” she said, rejecting the argument that his current circumstances are tragic. “This is something he did.”

“This was more than a mistake, more than a lapse or misguided judgment,” she later added.

Jackson said the sentence must be fair, and in accordance with what other criminal defendants who appear in her courtroom under similar circumstances would face.

Jackson noted that his defense attorneys said their client has already suffered enough and that his life has been shattered.

“But this glass has been dropped on a very thick carpet and it cushioned the blow,” she said.

Before Jackson informed Van der Zwaan of the sentence, she invited him to the podium to speak.

Van der Zwaan apologized to the court and to his wife.

“Your honor, what I did was wrong,” he said.

Jackson later called his expressions of remorse “somewhat muted, to say the least.”

Unmoved by his professed boredom and the days he says he spends in isolation in his hotel room, Jackson said she wondered why he didn’t use his free time to do community service.

Jackson took note that he ultimately did take responsibility, but she said it wasn’t enough.

“I believe the defendant may be overestimating the amount of credit he deserves for that,” she said.

Schwartz and Van der Zwaan declined to comment on the sentencing when they emerged from the courtroom.

%d bloggers like this: