WASHINGTON — Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the heavily scrutinized Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of obstructing justice. The charges come out of her role in a US case relating to an alleged money laundering scheme that has had global consequences for Russia in recent years.
Veselnitskaya was indicted on Dec. 20, 2018, but the case was only unsealed on Tuesday. The indictment, citing emails and documents drafted by Veselnitskaya, alleges ties to and regular communications with Russian government officials.
The obstruction charge comes out of Veselnitskaya's work as a defense lawyer for Prevezon Holdings. The Southern District of New York US Attorney's Office case was seeking forfeiture of property in the US from Prevezon that the US government claims was purchased out of the proceeds of a Russian tax fraud scheme that was made public by Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky then faced retaliation from the Russian government, was arrested, and eventually died while in Russian custody. His fate became the cause of lobbying on behalf of one of his former clients, Bill Browder, and his company, Hermitage Capital. That, in turn, led to the passage of the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions law punishing those behind Magnitsky's death that was signed into law in 2012 by former president Barack Obama and has been heavily criticized by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As detailed in the indictment, prosecutors allege that Veselnitskaya was involved in drafting a document that Prevezon submitted in court as evidence that Russian government officials and, subsequently, Prevezon were not involved in the fraud. The document, presented as a Russian government report, claimed to find that Magnitsky, Browder, and others associated with them — and not the Russian government officials — were behind the fraud.
According to the indictment, however, Veselnitskaya helped draft the report, including "insertions of approximately 29 paragraphs describing the supposed actions" of Browder, Magnitsky, and others associated with Hermitage Capital.
The indictment goes on to detail actions allegedly taken by Veselnitskaya and Russian officials to hide her involvement in the preparation of the report, as well as Prevezon's eventual submission of the report to the court in New York — in the form of an attachment to a sworn declaration filed by Veselnitskaya in the case in November 2015.
It was her role in the Prevezon case that led to Veselnitskaya being allowed in the US on the day of the Trump Tower meeting. She was in New York for a hearing in that case.
Browder called the indictment "a very dramatic development in this ongoing saga" and told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that his "main takeaway" from the news is that he believes "there will be no more mystery and secrets" about Russian influence.
"Like in [special counsel Robert] Mueller's indictments, [the Veselnitskaya indictment shows] the DOJ knows everything — and this is just the beginning of the truth coming out on the Russians," Browder said. He added that the charges "exposed" Veselnitskaya — the person "who has been most involved in trying to repeal the Magnitsky Act."
Although the case against Veselnitskaya itself is a separate matter from the ongoing special counsel investigation, the circumstances behind her indictment overlap with issues central to Mueller's probe.
After attending the Prevezon case hearing in June 2016, Veselnitskaya went to Trump Tower to lobby Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort to urge a Trump administration to reverse the Magnitsky Act's sanctions.