Russian lawyer who met Trump Jr. charged in unrelated case

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NEW YORK | A Russian attorney who President Donald Trump’s son believed was peddling dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign worked with a Russian government official to trick an American court in an unrelated civil case, federal prosecutors in New York said Tuesday.

FILE – In this April 22, 2018 file photo, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Moscow. Veselnitskaya, who became a focal point of the investigation into whether there was collusion between Russians and President Donald Trump’s election campaign, was charged with obstruction of justice Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in an unrelated case. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov, File)

Natalya Veselnitskaya was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice after prosecutors said she partnered with a senior Russian prosecutor and submitted deceptive declarations in a civil proceeding involving a Russian tax refund fraud scheme.

The indictment, though unrelated to Russian election interference, is the initial filing against a participant of a Trump Tower meeting at which the president’s son expected to receive damaging information about Clinton. It also is the first time U.S. prosecutors have directly connected Veselnitskaya to the Russian government.

Veselnitskaya was the key player in the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner that was described to Trump Jr. as part of a Russian government effort to assist his father’s campaign. Trump Jr. and Kushner have dismissed the meeting as amounting to nothing and mostly involving Russia’s ban on American adoptions in response to U.S. sanctions.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has investigated the meeting, calling some participants before a federal grand jury as he probes the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia. He has also criticized Trump’s involvement in sending a misleading public statement about the meeting’s content.

On Tuesday, special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined to say if Mueller’s team was involved in the Veselnitskaya case or if the office had referred the matter to prosecutors in New York.

Veselnitskaya, a 43-year-old attorney based in Russia, did not respond to a telephone call and text message from The Associated Press. She has previously denied acting on behalf of Russian officials when she met with the Trump team, telling Congress she operates “independently of any government bodies.”

The filing of the charge will curtail Veselnitskaya’s international travel and expose her to arrest if she comes to the U.S. But Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. and she will likely never appear in a U.S. court if she remains there.

The indictment was filed under seal in December and publicly announced Tuesday by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.

The criminal case relates to real estate firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd. and its role in an alleged $230 million tax-fraud scheme that federal officials say was “perpetrated by a criminal organization that included in its ranks corrupt Russian officials.”