x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Mueller investigation: lawyer jailed for lying to FBI 

Alex van der Zwaan, son-in-law of one of Russia’s richest men, sentenced to 30 days

Alex van der Zwaan, centre, leaves Federal District Court in Washington after a judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Alex van der Zwaan, centre, leaves Federal District Court in Washington after a judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A Dutch lawyer who lied to federal agents has become the first person to be jailed as part of the ongoing investigation into Trump campaign links to Russia.

Alex van der Zwaan, who is the son-in-law of one of Russia’s richest men, was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 days in prison and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Although he was not implicated in Moscow's effort to sway the election outcome, the case reveals clues to one of the investigation’s key targets: a Ukrainian businessman with ties to Russian intelligence who is linked to former senior Trump aide.

Mr van der Zwaan had faced up to six months in prison under sentencing guidelines and his attorneys had pushed for him to pay a fine and leave the country.

However, district judge Amy Jackson said a prison sentence was necessary to deter others from lying in a case of international significance.

“These were not mistakes. These were lies,” she told the lawyer as he stood in her Washington courthouse.

_______________

Trump's lead lawyer in Russia investigation resigns

Trump steps up attacks on Russia investigation

_______________

His downfall stemmed from misleading statements he made about his relationship with Rick Gates, a former Trump aide.

In 2012, Mr van der Zwaan was employed by an international law firm when he was assigned to work with Paul Manafort, who later became Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman, as well as Mr Gates, while they were operating as political consultants in Ukraine. Court documents reveal a third figure, known only as "Person A".

The young lawyer’s role was to help prepare a report that would protect Viktor Yanukovych, the then pro-Russian president, from international criticism over the jailing of his bitter rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

He became caught up in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling when his firm, Skadden Arps, began to co-operate with investigations into Mr Manafort and Mr Gates’ contact with Russians and Ukrainians during the 2016 election.

During his first, voluntary meeting with investigators he said he had not been in touch with Mr Gates since an innocuous text message in August 2016. And he said he had not communicated with Person A – identified by some news media as Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian businessman linked to Russian intelligence – since an exchange about his family in 2014.

Prosecutors instead claimed van der Zwaan “deleted and otherwise did not produce emails sought by the special counsel’s office” and made a false statement about when he was last in contact with Mr Gates and Person A.

Van der Zwaan admitted he lied as part of a plea bargain in February.

He apologised during the 40-minute hearing on Tuesday.

“Your honour, what I did was wrong. I apologise to the court. I apologise to my wife,” he said.

He wore a smart navy suit with a white pocket square and attended court with about eight lawyers and supporters including his father.

His legal team asked for leniency for a man who had lost his job so that he might return home to London, where his wife is expecting their child.

“He is literally in limbo,” said William Schwartz, his lawyer.

The 33-year-old is married to the daughter of German Khan, who was born in Ukraine before amassing an estimated $10 billion fortune in oil and banking, according to Forbes.

His wedding to Eva Khan was featured in Russian Tatler.

His wealth and connections made little impression on judge Ms Jackson.

“This is not something that happened to him. This is something he did,” she said. “He put his personal interest ahead of the interest of justice.”

Opponents of Mr Trump hope that the custodial sentence will be the first of many leading all the way to the White House. It also offers a guide to what other figures accused of lying to investigators might expect.

So far 19 people have been charged by Mr Mueller in connection with his investigation.

They include Michael Flynn, the former US National Security Adviser, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his meetings with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington.

George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, has also admitted lying to federal investigators.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post has reported that Mr Mueller told the president’s attorneys last month that he was continuing to investigate the president but did not consider him a criminal target in the Russia investigation “at this point”.

In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mr Mueller described Mr Trump as a subject of his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, according to the newspaper.

It also said that the special counsel told Mr Trump’s lawyers that he was preparing a report about the Republican president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice.