Federal prosecutors in New York charged Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya on Dec. 20, with obstruction of justice for her role in defending a money laundering case in the United States.
Although Veselnitskaya is best known for attending the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with senior members of the Trump campaign, the federal indictment (pdf) unsealed Jan. 8 is not directly related to the meeting or the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller.
Instead, the grand jury charges Veselnitskaya with obstructing justice for cooperating with a senior Russian government official in drafting a response to U.S. prosecutors in a separate case.
In the case, prominent Russian businessman Denis P. Katsyv and his real estate firm, Prevezon Holdings, is accused of laundering proceeds from a large-scale tax fraud in Russia through purchasing a New York property.
Federal prosecutors in the Prevezon case filed a request with the Russian government to provide banking and other documents to bolster their case. In response, the office of Russia’s prosecutor general Yury Chaika sent a lengthy statement exonerating defendants.
“[Veselnitskaya] had participated in drafting those supposed independent investigative findings in secret cooperation” with Chaika, according to the indictment. She later concealed the fact from prosecutors and the judge in the New York case and “obstructed the civil proceeding in the Prevezon” case, prosecutors said.
Russian tax fraud at the core of the Prevezon money laundering case was allegedly first uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who was allegedly killed while detained by Russian authorities.
Russian prosecutors accuse Magnitsky of participating in the largest tax fraud in Russian history worth $200 million. According to Bill Browder, the owner of the companies used in the scheme, Magnitsky was killed to cover up fraud involving corrupt government officials.
Browder promoted the narrative of Magnitsky’s death in the United States. His campaign eventually led to the passage of the Magnitsky Act, which resulted in sanctions against Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.
While the United States has largely accepted Browder’s account of the events, there are several inconsistencies. A 2011 medical report from the Physicians for Human Rights found no evidence Magnitsky was beaten to death, contrary to Browder’s claim. Browder also described Magnitsky as his lawyer, even though Magnitsky did not hold a law license and was actually an accountant.
The Magnitsky Act is also linked to the Trump Tower meeting and Prevezon case. Veselnitskaya attended an appeal hearing in the Prevezon case on the same day she attended a meeting in Trump Tower. In the meeting attended by Donald Trump Jr. and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Veselnitskaya brought up the Magnitsky Act instead of the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton she offered to secure the appointment.
Exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky first disclosed emails cited in the indictment between Veselnitskaya and Chaika in April 2018. According to The New York Times, Khodorkovsky said the emails were deposited in his company’s electronic dropbox.
Veselnitskaya hired research firm Fusion GPS through a law firm for the Prevezon case.
Fusion GPS is also the company that commissioned the creation of the Steele dossier, a document filled with debunked and unverified claims about Trump. The FBI used the dossier without verifying it in order to secure a warrant to spy on former Trump-campaign associate Carter Page. The Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee paid for the dossier.
Veselnitskaya met with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson shortly before and after the Trump Tower meeting.