This is odd, on the face of it, considering that the Prevezon case itself — for which Natalya Veselnitskaya had a role as defense counsel — was settled in 2017, for a monetary amount that was fair based on the size of the actual, culpable laundering activity inside U.S. jurisdiction. The case, while apparently sleazy and involving real wrongdoing, was not one in which there were major conscience-shockers — or national security concerns, for that matter. Prevezon was alleged to be laundering the ill-gotten money of Russian oligarchs through real estate holdings in New York.
The money was allegedly linked to the tax-fraud scheme in Russia on which Sergei Magnitsky blew the whistle, with such conscience-shocking consequences that the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act. The law provides for sanctions on governments that retaliate against whistleblowers as Russia did against Magnitsky, who was imprisoned and subjected to torture and denial of medical care, and who died apparently as a result.
But the Prevezon money-laundering case wasn’t a method of taking policy action over Russia’s treatment of Magnitsky. The policy action was passing the Magnitsky Act. Prevezon’s was a straightforward money-laundering case, to all appearances legitimate in itself — i.e., the violations of U.S. law were sufficient to justify the prosecution — and it was settled 18 months ago.
So indicting Natalya Veselnitskaya now has no value for the fate of that case. This is about something else.
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The mainstream media are obediently focusing on a theme that the indictment shows Veselnitskaya’s connection to Russian officials.
In the indictment unsealed Tuesday, prosecutors alleged that as part of her work in the Prevezon case, Ms. Veselnitskaya secretly worked with a senior Russian prosecutor to draft a response by the Russian government to a Justice Department request for Russian Treasury records in 2014. Russia didn’t hand over the requested records and instead responded with the findings of a purported government investigation that claimed to exonerate all Russian government employees of participating in the fraud.
At the time, Ms. Veselnitskaya wrote in a sworn declaration under penalty of perjury that the Russian findings had been independently drafted, claiming the Russian government had denied her request to obtain a copy. She didn’t disclose her participation in drafting the response, prosecutors said.
But you have to be looking for a pretext on which to indict Ms. Veselnitskaya, in order to bother with something like this. It’s kind of a big “duh” at this point that she had connections with Russian officials. The text of the Wall Street Journal report actually reveals that, with its litany of prior information about those connections. We didn’t need to see a federal indictment unveiled to be convinced of them.
The real point of interest is why the U.S. federal government wants to hold a hammer over her with an indictment in 2019 based on something she is alleged to have done in 2014, on a case that was settled in 2017.
I assume that what the Justice Department is looking for is leverage related to Veselnitskaya’s meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump, Jr., on 9 June 2016. It’s the Southern District of New York that has filed the indictment. Besides the fact that the Prevezon case was prosecuted by the SDNY, its involvement makes it likelier that this is cooperation with a purpose of Robert Mueller’s rather than the opposite.
Veselnitskaya herself can’t be compelled to appear in a U.S. court; she’s in Russia. But by prosecuting the case, the DOJ may be able to compel others (i.e., U.S. citizens) to appear and answer questions. Such persons would have to be connected to the Prevezon case. But that may open a tunnel to some objective Mueller has in view.