WASHINGTON - Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who attended the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with members of then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, has been charged with obstruction of justice in a case that is unrelated to the special counsel probe but underlines her ties to the Kremlin.
According to a grand jury indictment unsealed on Tuesday, Veselnitskaya secretly worked with a senior Russian prosecutor in 2015 to draft a false declaration that she later used to defend a Russian company in a money laundering and forfeiture case brought by federal prosecutors in New York.
Veselnitskaya, who is believed to be in Russia, faces up to 10 years in prison.
The 43-year-old Russian lawyer entered the spotlight in 2017 amid reports she met in secret with Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort at Trump Tower in June 2016.
The president's eldest son initially maintained that the subject of the meeting was adoption of Russian children. But he later released emails showing he agreed to the meeting after being told by an intermediary that Veselnitskaya represented the Russian government and had damaging information about Trump's rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The meeting has become a focal point of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow during the 2016 election.
During the meeting, Veselnitskaya also brought up Russian hopes for a repeal of the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who was allegedly beaten to death in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing a massive tax fraud scheme involving corrupt Russian officials.
In 2013, the Justice Department sued Russian firm Prevezon Holdings to recover several million dollars’ worth of property, mainly New York real estate, arguing that the property had been used to launder some of the proceeds from the $230 million tax scheme.
In 2014, the U.S. government requested Russian assistance with the case. Instead of responding to the request, the Russian government sent U.S. prosecutors a copy of a report that exonerated Prevezon and Russian officials of any wrongdoing.
Veselnitskaya, while representing Prevezon Holdings in the case, secretly worked with a senior Russian prosecutor to prepare the report, according to the indictment. In 2015, she moved to quash the U.S. lawsuit, submitting the findings of the report without disclosing her role in drafting it.
“Fabricating evidence — submitting false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge — in an attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation not only undermines the integrity of the judicial process, but it threatens the ability of our courts and our Government to ensure that justice is done,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
The special counsel's office declined to comment on the latest indictment.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in New York told VOA that the case “grew out of our own investigation” and was not a “referral” by the special counsel’s office.
Trump has defended the meeting while distancing himself from it. Last year, he tweeted the meeting was "totally legal and done all the time in politics."
Veselnitskaya, who has previously denied any links to the Kremlin, told CNN on Tuesday that she will "defend her professional honor."
The Prevezon case was settled in 2017 with the company agreeing to pay about $6 million, a little less than half the amount prosecutors had sought.