Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, scrutinised by Robert Mueller over Trump Tower meeting, is charged with obstruction in separate case
- Natalia Veselnitskaya has been charged with trying to thwart a money-laundering case involving a Russian criminal organisation
- The case links back to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who helped uncover the scheme but was arrested and died in Russian custody
A Russian lawyer whose role at a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has come under scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller was charged Tuesday in a separate case with obstructing justice in a money-laundering investigation.
Natalia Veselnitskaya became a central figure in the Mueller probe when it was revealed that in June 2016, she met with Donald Trump Jnr, after an intermediary indicated she had damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
The charges unsealed Tuesday say that Veselnitskaya made a “misleading declaration” to the court in a civil case brought by the US attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Veselnitskaya represented Prevezon Holdings in the civil case in which federal prosecutors sought millions of dollars in forfeiture from the company and others.
The department had alleged in a civil complaint that a Russian criminal organisation ran an elaborate tax refund scheme, stealing the identities of targeted companies and filing sham lawsuits to incur fake losses for refund purposes.
Those involved made about US$230 million in tax refunds, prosecutors said, and filtered the money through shell companies and eventually into Prevezon, a Cyprus-based real estate corporation.
Prevezon, prosecutors said, laundered the funds into real estate, including by investing in high-end commercial property and luxury apartments in Manhattan.
The parent company of the victim firms hired lawyers to investigate after learning of the sham lawsuits – including the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky – and they uncovered the fraud scheme, in which Russian government officials were complicit, prosecutors said.
Magnitsky was subsequently arrested by Russian authorities and died in custody. On the day he died, prosecutors said, he was beaten by guards with a rubber baton, and an ambulance crew called to treat him was deliberately kept outside his cell until he was dead.
The incident sparked the US to pass the Magnitsky Act, which permits the US to sanction Russian officials found to have committed human rights violations.
Last year, the US attorney’s office settled its civil case against Prevezon for more than $5.8 million.