A Russian lawyer who met senior aides to Donald Trump in 2016 had previously “secretly schemed” with the Russian official who was purportedly offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton, US authorities have alleged.
Natalia Veselnitskaya was on Tuesday accused of fabricating evidence in a US money-laundering case she was working on when she attended a now-notorious meeting at Trump Tower in New York in June 2016.
A criminal indictment unsealed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Veselnitskaya worked on the bogus evidence in 2014 with the office of Russia’s prosecutor general, Yury Chaika. She was charged with obstruction of justice.
The June 2016 meeting was convened after Trump’s son, Donald Jr, was told by a representative for well-connected Russians that Chaika could provide incriminating material on Clinton, their Democratic opponent, to help Trump’s campaign.
The meeting, which Donald Jr attended with the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been closely examined by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any coordination with members of Trump’s team.
Veselnitskaya’s obstruction charge relates to her work representing Prevezon Holdings, a Russian investment company. Prevezon was sued by the US government in New York for allegedly laundering part of $230m stolen by a Russian criminal network into upscale Manhattan condominiums.
Angel Melendez, a senior FBI official in New York, said on Tuesday: “Veselnitskaya secretly schemed with a senior Russian prosecutor to provide false information to US law enforcement in an attempt to influence the legal proceedings in the Southern District of New York.”
During the Prevezon case, Veselnitskaya cited the report of a supposedly independent investigation by Russian authorities, which she said exonerated her clients. In a declaration to court signed under penalty of perjury, Veselnitskaya claimed she had “gone to great lengths” to obtain the report.
In fact, US prosecutors said on Tuesday, Veselnitskaya secretly worked with Chaika’s office to draft and edit the report. Then Chaika’s office also helped Veselnitskaya file a phoney legal complaint against itself to make it appear she was obtaining the report through formal procedures, the indictment said.
Veselnitskaya allegedly inserted 29 paragraphs into a draft of the report she received from Chaika’s office on 1 August 2014. The indictment said many of these additions made it into the final report passed to the US by Russian authorities.
US authorities went on to allege that in June 2015, a prosecutor in Chaika’s office sent Veselnitskaya an email from his personal account containing a draft legal filing that she could use for her phoney complaint to Chaika’s office, in which she would pretend to demand the report she had helped to write.
The US justice department announced in May 2017 that Prevezon would pay a $5.9m settlement to halt the government’s legal action. No wrongdoing was admitted and Prevezon maintained its innocence.
The US attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, said in a statement that Veselnitskaya’s act “undermines the integrity of the judicial process” and threatened the enforcement of justice.
Berman said: “We take seriously our responsibility to protect the integrity of the judicial proceedings in this district, and we will not stand idly by while outside influences seek to corrupt and pervert that process.”
Melendez said Veselnitskaya was now “a wanted person” in the US, was “now on notice and will have to answer for her futile actions”.
Russian authorities are unlikely to cooperate with the US attempt to prosecute Veselnitskaya while she remains in her home country. She will, however, no longer be able to travel to the US without risking arrest.