Russian known for Trump Tower meeting faces charges in U.S.
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Russian known for Trump Tower meeting faces charges in U.S.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya spoke during an April 22 interview in Moscow. Veselnitskaya, who became a focal point of the investigation into whether there was collusion between Russians and President Donald Trump’s election campaign, was charged with obstruction of justice today in an unrelated case.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign officials in June 2016, was accused by prosecutors in New York of obstructing a far-reaching U.S. lawsuit over money laundering that had broad ramifications for the two countries’ relationship.

Veselnitskaya is accused of submitting a misleading declaration in the suit against investment firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd., one of her clients. She presented the results of a supposed independent investigation by the Russian government that exonerated clients including Prevezon, claiming she had “gone to great lengths” to get a copy of it. In fact, the U.S. said, she secretly worked with the Russian prosecutors to draft the findings.

“Veselnitskaya secretly schemed with a senior Russian prosecutor to provide false information to U.S. law enforcement in an attempt to influence the legal proceedings,” Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of the New York office of Homeland Security Investigations, said in a written statement.

The case signals that federal prosecutors are continuing to investigate money laundering by Russian oligarchs and indicates they’re reading emails between Veselnitskaya and Russian prosecutors. That could help Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he unravels the role of Veselnitskaya and others in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower set up on the pretext of providing political dirt about Donald Trump’s Democratic political opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman at the time who was prosecuted by Mueller for fraud and tax crimes.

The charges unsealed today relate to the Prevezon lawsuit, in which the U.S. sought to seize millions of dollars that had been stolen in an elaborate Russian tax heist and laundered into New York real estate. The U.S. says an estimated $230 million was stolen from an investment fund in Russia, Bill Browder’s Hermitage Capital.

In the suit, the U.S. government accused Denis Katsyv, Prevezon’s main shareholder, of helping to launder the money by buying Manhattan condominiums. Katsyv is the son of an ex-Moscow transportation minister. Money was siphoned out of Russia through a maze of foreign banks and concealed in assets and accounts around the world, the U.S. said.

The money-laundering lawsuit was settled on the eve of trial, with the U.S. agreeing to take $5.9 million. Both sides claimed victory.

The case had broader ramifications for the U.S.-Russia relationship, leading to a dispute that reverberates to this day and continues to figure in investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. After Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer working for Hermitage, died in custody there, the U.S. adopted sanctions to punish foreign torture of political dissidents.

“There are no secrets in Russia,” Browder said in an interview today, after the indictment against Veselnitskaya was unsealed. “Whatever crimes have been committed are known to the Department of Justice, and step by step they will prosecute them.”

In the new criminal case, Veselnitskaya is accused of sharing with the Russian prosecutor multiple drafts of the Russian government’s legal response to the U.S., which included claims that people tied to Browder’s company — and not corrupt Russian officials — were behind the $230 million fraud.

Veselnitskaya is believed to be in Russia, said James Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan.

A call to her offices in Russia wasn’t immediately returned.

The Trump Tower meeting has been a focus of scrutiny for Mueller. Trump Jr. initially described the meeting as an uneventful discussion of Russia’s adoption policy. Pressed further, he disclosed emails indicating that Russian nationals were offering information that could harm Clinton’s candidacy, and he defended his decision to take the meeting.

President Trump and his son have both insisted there was no bargain struck between the campaign and the Russian government at that meeting. Veselnitskaya told a similar story. Today’s charges portray her as untruthful, willing to obstruct an inquiry into Russian government behavior that could prove embarrassing.

The case is U.S. v Veselnitskaya, 18-cr-904, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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