More than the White House was at stake when Donald Trump Jr. met in Trump Tower last summertime with a leading attorney for Moscow’s regional authorities.
The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had a customer with another pressing matter — a U.S. criminal investigation into potential Russian money laundering.
“The roots of this meeting and what happened make #x 201D, & a lot more sense now; stated Seva Gunitsky, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto and an authority on Russian foreign policy. For the Russian side the meeting was probably less about the campaign than it was about advancing core financial interests. “If you’re looking for evidence for a quid pro quo would be that type of thing. ”
Veselnitskaya attested in court records that the U.S. told Russia its probe was criminal, which she called “a false representation. ” Reached Thursday at Moscow, Veselnitskaya said she wasn’t aware of this continuing U.S. criminal probe and that it wasn’t discussed in the Trump Tower meeting. She reiterated that the focus of this meeting was Russia’s ban on adoptions by Americans and U.S. sanctions.
“There was no discussion of a deal — you repeal one and then we in turn repeal another,” Veselnitskaya stated. “I categorically wasn’t authorized to discuss something. ”
Agents for the Southern District of New York, Kushner and Manafort declined to comment. A lawyer for Trump Jr. didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The adoption conversation is one scene at a decade-long drama that features Veselnitskaya in roles. The saga, set off with a enormous theft that victimized an American-led investment finance, Hermitage Capitalcomprises a dead attorney, a diplomatic battle between Moscow and Washington, and the undisclosed probe to trace the funds.
Hermitage’s offices were raided in 2007 by Russian government officials. Then, based on U.S. prosecutors and Hermitage founder William Browder, criminals used companies in Hermitage’s portfolio to milk $230 million in fraudulent tax refunds in the Russian Treasury. Launderers working with #x 2019 & the scam;s perpetrators spirited the money out of Russia through an elaborate network of shell companies and bank accounts, they allege.
A attorney and auditor working for Browder, Sergei Magnitsky, died and was arrested in a Moscow prison in 2009. U.S. lawmakers imposed sanctions on Russian officials, judges and investigators that they thought were involved. The U.S. Magnitsky Act infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin, who responded by halting U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans.
Veselnitskaya emerged as one of Russia’s global opponents to the sanctions. Throughout the time of the Trump Tower meeting, she appeared in Washington, D.C., for the screening of “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes,” which aims to erode the foundations of the U.S. sanctions case, accusing Browder of committing the fraud and attempting to cast doubt on whether Magnitsky was tortured to death.
In accordance with Browder, Veselnitskaya’s focus on broader Russian interests was clear when she showed up for the Trump Tower meeting. “This is #x 201D, & all about sanctions. “Adoption is a code word for sanctions. ”
At the moment, Veselnitskaya was also defending a Russian named Denis Katsyv, whose company, Prevezon Holdings Ltd., was detained by the U.S. government of getting some of the proceeds of the Hermitage tax-refund scam. Her job for Prevezon’s Katsyv is her only case outside of Russia, she has said.
Veselnitskaya didn’t provide additional comment on Katsyv’s behalf. Faith Gay, a U.S. attorney for Prevezon, declined to comment.
Veselnitskaya, a Moscow-trained attorney who has said in U.S. court filings she doesn’t speak English, was accompanied to the Trump Tower by Rinat Akhmetshin, who had done public-relations work on behalf of Prevezon. Akhmetshin declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors in New York launched their investigation to the Prevezon case in ancient 2013, sending evidence orders to countries including Switzerland, Latvia and Cyprus, according to court records filed this spring as part of an dispute in the civil lawsuit.
Prosecutors also issued grand jury subpoenas to banks such as Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG and TD Bank. Several banks produced records in response, according to court records filed by Prevezon’s attorney.
Agents for Deutsche Bank, Citigroup and TD bank declined to comment. A UBS spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Request to Russia
The criminal investigation has concentrated on what prosecutors called an network used to move proceeds of the Hermitage scheme out of Russia and around the world.
“The bulk of the government’s investigation has been directed at ascertaining where the proceeds of the fraud went, and who was involved in laundering them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni wrote in a legal brief in April.
Prosecutors said they sought the assistance of the Russian government in the case. The Russians refused to honor an information request, claiming they could not find evidence of the transactions, Monteleoni said. Instead, the government responded with several irrelevant documents and a letter from a Russian prosecutor attesting to the innocence of Russian government officials as well as Prevezon’s owner, according to the court records.
Russia’s response to the request said that the alleged offenses never occurred and that the complaint was an attempt by Browder to “discredit the law enforcement and judicial authorities of Russia,” court records show.
U.S. prosecutors said they ultimately received relevant Russian records through other means. A Russian criminal investigator had gathered bank statements proving the presence of the laundering transactions, and Russian financial analysts affirmed their presence, Monteleoni wrote.
“It is difficult to comprehend how the Russian prosecutor could not have been comfortable with these facts,” Monteleoni wrote in a court filing.
Spokespeople for Russia’s Prosecutor General didn’t respond to requests for comment. Veselnitskaya, at a 2016 court filing, said that the U.S. had diminished the Russian Prosecutor General’s offer to cooperate.
In September 2013, then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed the civil forfeiture lawsuit against Prevezon, seeking to seize New York property that he stated Katsyv and two other owners of Prevezon bought with a chunk of tax refunds.
In a footnote to the civil case, the Justice Department complained that Veselnitskaya billed the government for a two-night stay, at $995 per night, in the Plaza Hotel even though she wasn’t deposed and didn’t attend the depositions in person. (The authorities asked the judge to not accept more such expenses.)
After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon thing was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ complete allegations about the Russian money flows. But only days before opening arguments, the U.S. declared it had settled the case for $5.9 million.
The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology from the government. ”
Several Democratic lawmakers looked in the Prevezon settlement in a light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian attorney, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the issue. They also pointed out that Bharara, whose office opened the case, was summarily fired by Trump as the case neared trial.
What wasn’t publicly known at the time was that prosecutors in Bharara’s old office continued a criminal probe.
Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/