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Russian Lawyer Veselnitskaya Seeks U.S. Visa Amid Prevezon Settlement Dispute

Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya (file photo)
Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The Russian lawyer who met with U.S. President Donald Trump's son during last year's election campaign is seeking a new U.S. visa to testify in a now-closed money-laundering case linked to a massive tax-fraud scheme.

Natalia Veselnitskaya has been the focus of intense scrutiny since revelations that she met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 in a meeting brokered by a publicist promising Trump Jr. compromising material on Hillary Clinton.

At the time of that meeting, Veselnitskaya was legal counsel for a Russian businessman whose company, Prevezon, had been accused by U.S. prosecutors of using laundered Russian tax refunds to buy U.S. real estate.

U.S. prosecutors and Prevezon settled the case in May on the eve of trial, with the company agreeing to pay about $6 million but admitting no wrongdoing.

Veselnitskaya had a visa in 2016 that allowed her to meet in New York with Trump Jr. and also travel to Washington to lobby against a 2012 human rights law. But her visa later expired.

In papers filed in U.S. federal court, prosecutors said the $6 million settlement payment was due on October 31.

Lawyers for Prevezon, however, said that half of that amount was scheduled to come from Dutch bank account that U.S. officials had requested frozen.

Dutch authorities had lifted the freeze earlier this month, but then reimposed it following a legal complaint filed by British-American investor William Browder.

U.S. prosecutors said regardless of the new freeze, the $6 million payment was due, and indicated they intended to ask the court to enforce the payment.

Sprawling Saga

In their letter to the court, Prevezon's lawyers asked for help in getting temporary U.S. immigration status for Veselnitskaya, as well as Prevezon’s owner, Denis Katsyv, so she could attend upcoming hearings.

The back-and-forth is the latest chapter in a sprawling and complicated saga that dates back to 2008 when a lawyer working for Browder and his company, Hermitage Capital Management, uncovered a $230 million scheme to defraud the Russian government.

That auditor, Sergei Magnitsky, was later arrested and accused of the crime he helped uncover. He died in a Moscow jail in 2009, after suffering from what his supporters said amounted to torture.

Three years later, the U.S. government passed the Magnitsky Act, a law that sanctioned Russians deemed to have committed human rights abuses, or with links to the original tax fraud.

That law infuriated the Kremlin, which retaliated by banning adoptions of Russian children by American parents. Russian officials have also repeatedly sought to undermine the Magnitsky law, trying to sow doubts about the underlying facts of the tax fraud, Magnitsky's death, and Browder’s past.

The Russian government admits it was defrauded of the $230 million, but has accused Browder and Magnitsky of responsibility, rather than a sophisticated organized crime gang that U.S. prosecutors and other experts have blamed for the tax fraud.

Veselnitskaya was involved in setting up a nonprofit group to lobby Congress against the Magnitsky sanctions. At the time she met with Trump Jr. in June 2016, she was in the United States to participate in the ongoing legal fight over Prevezon.

In her meeting with Trump Jr. last year, Veselnitskaya said the issue of the Magnitsky law, and American adoptions of Russian children, was the priority, something Trump Jr. himself also stated at the time.

But Trump Jr. also said he agreed to the meeting after a publicist had said it would involve compromising information on Clinton.

Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials, has reportedly interviewed at least one person who attended that meeting, a Russian-American citizen named Rinat Akhmetshin.

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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.