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E-Mails Show Lawyer Veselnitskaya In Close Communication With Top Russian Officials

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya

Newly released e-mails from a Russian lawyer involved in a U.S. money-laundering case showed the lawyer had close contact with officials from the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office, even as she portrayed herself as a private citizen.

The documents shed yet more light on the background of Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose legal work for a company called Prevezon coincided with a meeting with President Donald Trump’s son during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Veselnitskaya has repeatedly denied having connections to the Kremlin or to Russia’s top prosecutor. She said in a letter to a U.S. Senate committee last year that she “operate[s] independently of any government bodies.”

But the e-mails, which were provided to RFE/RL, show her communicating with Sergei Bochkaryov, a top official in the office of Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, about an official government response to a U.S. legal request.

“Dear Sergei Aleksandrovich! I am sending you the edits to the response, in accordance with instructions. I am ready to answer any questions that may arise at any time that is convenient for you. Respectfully, NV,” one message, dated August 2, 2014, read.

They were first reported on by The New York Times.

Veseltnitskaya could not immediately be reached for comment, but in remarks to the Interfax news agency, she said that her e-mail accounts had been hacked in February.

The documents were obtained by an organization called Dossier, which is funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil baron who was imprisoned for years and his oil company assets sold off. Now living outside of Russia, he is a vocal critic of the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin.

At the time of the exchange with the prosecutors’ office, Veseltnitskaya represented Prevezon, a company owned by a Russian businessman. U.S. authorities alleged that Prevezon had been the recipient of laundered funds from a massive tax fraud scheme that stole $250 million from the Russian treasury in the mid-2000s.

Prevezon repeatedly denied being the recipient of any of the tax fraud proceeds, and in 2014, the U.S. Justice Department requested documentation related to the fraud from Chaika’s office.

In May 2017, on the eve of the beginning of a civil asset forfeiture trial in Manhattan, the company and U.S. prosecutors settled the case. Prevezon agreed to pay $6 million and admitted no culpability in the scheme.

The original tax fraud was uncovered by a Russian whistle-blower named Sergei Magnitsky who was later detained on allegations of perpetrating the fraud. A Russian court convicted him of the fraud a few years after he died in a Moscow prison in November 2009 after alleged beatings and medical negligence.

Magnitsky’s death led to a 2012 U.S. law that targeted Russian officials allegedly involved in the fraud and his death -- a law that outraged the Kremlin and prompted Putin to ban the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

Since then, there has been a shady lobbying campaign in Washington to undermine the narrative of Magnitsky’s death and the tax fraud, as well as a later law on human rights abusers that also bore Magnitsky’s name.

The lobbying campaign also involved a screening of a Russian director’s film that took a semifictionalized look at Magnitsky’s whistle-blowing actions and his death.

The screening, at Washington’s Newseum, happened on June 13, 2016, four days after Veselnitskaya attended a meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and other officials from Trump’s election campaign.

In that meeting, Veselnitskaya said she discussed the Russian adoption ban with Donald Trump Jr.

E-mails later released by Donald Trump Jr. showed that the meeting was organized by a British music promoter with Russian business ties, Rob Goldstone.

Goldstone told Donald Trump Jr. that “the crown prosecutor of Russia” was offering “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

Donald Trump Jr. responded by e-mail: "I love it."

Meanwhile, in an interview with NBC News set to be aired late on April 27, Veselnitskaya appears to acknowledge that she worked closely with Chaika.

“Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor-general,” Veselnitskaya was quoted as saying.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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