The Real Deal New York

Russian attorney, who attended Trump Tower meeting, indicted for obstructing real estate money laundering investigation

The lawyer's client, Prevezon Holdings, was accused of laundering millions into luxury Manhattan properties
By Will Parker | January 08, 2019 03:00PM

Natalia Veselnitskaya and 20 Pine Street (Credit: Facebook and CityRealty)

A Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 presidential campaign has been indicted for obstructing a federal investigation into a New York money laundering scheme, according to a complaint unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan court.

Natalie Veselnitskaya had been the defense attorney for real estate company Prevezon Holdings, which in 2013 was accused by U.S. prosecutors of laundering millions in stolen Russian money into Manhattan luxury properties, including condominiums at 20 Pine Street in the Financial District.

Before the case went to trial, Veselnitskaya’s clients settled, and in February of last year were ordered to pay $6 million. But in today’s unveiled complaint, prosecutors allege the Russian attorney provided the American court with falsified reports presented as authentic Russian government findings that denied the United States’ claims against Prevezon.

The New York Times first reported on the unsealed complaint.

In the Prevezon case, prosecutors alleged that laundered money came from a more than $200 million Russian tax fraud scheme, in which American hedge fund manager Bill Browder, and his firm Hermitage Capital, were said to be framed by Russian officials, who issued phony tax rebates and pocketed the sums for themselves. The fracas culminated in the mysterious death of Hermitage’s accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, in a Russian prison in 2009. Those events led the US Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned high-ranking Russian officials believed to be responsible.

Veselnitskaya, Prevezon’s now indicted attorney, is better known as a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and potential collusion with Russian individuals. In 2016, Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr, campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower. The meeting was ostensibly held to discuss potential opposition research on Hillary Clinton, but ultimately to lobby them on the Magnitsky Act, Donald Trump, Jr. later said. Trump, Jr. had first been pitched the meeting by an English publicist, who described Veselnitskaya as connected to “the Crown prosecutor of Russia” in an email.

The Russian government was largely uncooperative in the U.S. Prevezon investigation, according to previous reporting, but Veselnitskaya provided to U.S. attorneys documents she said were the result of the Russian government’s own investigation into the allegations, claiming that the tax fraud scheme had been carried out not by corrupt Russian bureaucrats, but by Browder and Hermitage Capital. U.S. Attorneys, however, allege in their indictment that Veselnitskaya herself participated in the drafting and careful wording of these documents, without disclosing to the court that she had done so.

In a statement Tuesday Morning, Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, “Fabricating evidence – submitting false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge – in an attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation not only undermines the integrity of the judicial process, but it threatens the ability of our courts and our Government to ensure that justice is done.”

Prevezon, which admitted no wrongdoing in its 2017 settlement, was a partner of Lev Leviev’s Africa Israel Investment, including in investments alleged to be vehicles for money laundering, such as the sale of the 20 Pine condos.