Politics New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting

  • Published:

The Russian lawyer who met with President Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign manager was representing a client under scrutiny in a criminal investigation.

Donald Trump Jr. play

Donald Trump Jr.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
24/7 Live - Subscribe to the Pulse Newsletter!

The Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign manager in June 2016 was representing a client under scrutiny in an ongoing criminal investigation related to a money-laundering case opened in 2013 by former US Attorney Preet Bharara.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian prosecutor with ties to the Kremlin, was representing the real-estate company Prevezon Holdings in a civil suit filed by the US government in the Southern District of New York when she visited Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.

Prevezon, which is owned by the son of a powerful Russian government official, was part of a parallel criminal investigation, according to court documents filed late last year. A person familiar with the matter told Business Insider that the criminal case is ongoing, corroborating a Bloomberg report published earlier Friday.

The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.

Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.

In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alexeevich Pavlov — a person "central to the Government's case against Prevezon," according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.

Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.

Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.

The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide "all non-privileged correspondence" with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.

The government's original civil complaint against Prevezon had laid out a complicated money trail stemming from the Russian Treasury, which prosecutors alleged participated in a $230 million tax-fraud scheme from which Prevezon benefited.

null play

null

(Screenshot/NYSD)

The civil case was abruptly settled three days before it was set to go to trial, which raised questions about whether the Justice Department had been subject to any pressure to settle.

People familiar with the case told Business Insider that there was no reason to believe the DOJ acted unethically.

A spokesman for the US attorney's office told Business Insider at the time that the settlement saved taxpayers the expense of a trial. The representative said the settlement was for "many multiples more" than the amount in fraud proceeds the government alleged were laundered through the New York real-estate purchases. He characterized it as a "very good outcome" for the government.

But Prevezon described the settlement as proof that the company had done nothing wrong, and a spokesman said the company's legal team considered the offer from prosecutors "too good to refuse."

House Judiciary Committee Democrats wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year that they were "concerned" the Trump Tower meeting and the settlement "may be connected — and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts."