- New York federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged the Kremlin-allied lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice in a major Russian money-laundering case that was settled in 2017.
- The case centered around whether the Russian real-estate firm Prevezon laundered millions into New York real estate.
- It drew attention at the time because of its ties to a separate $230 million Russian tax-fraud scheme that implicated several high-level Kremlin officials and prompted the passage of the 2012 Magnitsky Act.
- When the US government asked the Russian government for help in investigating the Prevezon case, the Russian government refused and sent over a memo that sought to exonerate Prevezon.
- According to Tuesday’s indictment, Veselnitskaya, who represented Prevezon in the case, was instrumental in drafting the memo and “in doing so, Veselnitskaya obstructed the civil proceeding.”
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-connected lawyer at the center of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and several Russians, was charged Tuesday with obstruction of justice in a separate case, The New York Times reported.
Federal prosecutors in New York indicted Veselnitskaya for seeking to hamper a Justice Department investigation into an alleged money laundering operation that involved an elaborate Russian tax-fraud scheme and implicated high-level Kremlin officials.
At the center of the case is the Russian state-owned real-estate company Prevezon, which is incorporated in Cyprus. Federal investigators had been probing whether Prevezon laundered millions of dollars into New York City real estate, and the Southern District of New York reached a settlement with Prevezon in May 2017 for $6 million.
At the time, the case drew attention because of its connection to a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme and the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death in a Russian prison prompted the passage of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which blacklists wealthy Russians suspected of human-rights abuses.
According to Tuesday’s indictment against Veselnitskaya, after the Justice Department asked the Kremlin for help in its investigation, the Russian government refused the request and responded with a letter that sought to exonerate Russian officials and Prevezon employees from blame.
The document said Veselnitskaya, who represented Prevezon in the case, secretly cooperated with a top Russian prosecutor in drafting Russia’s response and, “in doing so, Veselnitskaya obstructed the civil proceeding.”
Veselnitskaya drew additional scrutiny when The Times reported in the summer of 2017 that Veselnitskaya was one of several Russians who met with top Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in June 2016, at the height of the US presidential election.
Donald Trump Jr., who attended the meeting, initially claimed it had nothing to do with campaign business. But subsequent reporting revealed that Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after he was offered kompromat from Veselnitskaya on the Hillary Clinton campaign as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s candidacy.
Veselnitskaya initially claimed she had no ties to the Russian government.
But Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who pitched the meeting to Trump Jr., described Veselnitskaya in an email as a “Russian government attorney” aligned with “the Crown prosecutor of Russia,” believed to be a reference to Yuri Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general.
Chaika, described as a “master of kompromat,” has long been working with Veselnitskaya to overturn the Magnitsky Act.
His office gave the former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher and three other US representatives a confidential letter detailing American investor Bill Browder’s “illegal scheme of buying up Gazprom shares without permission of the Government of Russia” between 1999 and 2006, one month after Rohrabacher returned from Moscow. Browder was targeted by Chaika’s office because of his role in spearheading the Magnitsky Act
As INSIDER has previously reported, Veselnitskaya brought a memo to the Trump Tower meeting that contained many of the same talking points as one written by Chaika’s office two months earlier.
Veselnitskaya told the Senate Judiciary Committee in November that she worked exclusively as a private lawyer and said her ties to the Russian government and Chaika were only in a professional capacity.
“I operate independently of any governmental bodies,” she told the committee, adding: “I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives, and institutions other than those related to my professional functions of a lawyer.”
But last year, Veselnitskaya admitted she had closer ties to the Kremlin than she had previously let on and shed light on her relationship with Chaika.
“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she told NBC News. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”