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Attorney Pleads Guilty in Mueller Probe02/21 06:20

   A 33-year-old attorney fired last year by a prominent international law firm 
became the fourth person to plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller's 
Russia investigation, admitting Tuesday that he lied to federal investigators 
about his contacts with a Trump campaign official.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A 33-year-old attorney fired last year by a prominent 
international law firm became the fourth person to plead guilty in special 
counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, admitting Tuesday that he lied 
to federal investigators about his contacts with a Trump campaign official.

   Alex van der Zwaan, who worked at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher 
& Flom, admitted in Washington's federal court Tuesday to making false 
statements about his interactions with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates. 
His plea deal may allow him to avoid prison.

   Van der Zwaan's plea comes on the heels of an extraordinary indictment from 
Mueller last week that charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian 
companies in a hidden but robust social media effort that provoked 
on-the-ground rallies and sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential 
election by denigrating Democrat Hillary Clinton and boosting the successful 
campaign of Republican Donald Trump.

   But the charge against the attorney, who is also the son-in-law of a Russian 
billionaire, does not involve election meddling or relate to the Trump 
campaign's operations. Instead, it stems from the special counsel's 
investigation into Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chair, and Gates, who 
is a longtime business associate of Manafort.

   Gates and Manafort were indicted last year on charges that they conspired to 
launder millions of dollars and directed a covert Washington lobbying campaign 
on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian interests. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

   On Tuesday, van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen who authorities say lives in 
London, admitted to lying to federal investigators while they questioned him 
about the production of a report that Manafort and Gates are accused of 
secretly funding by funneling $4 million through an offshore account.

   The report, authored by Skadden Arps, focused on the trial of former 
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political foe of former Ukrainian 
President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political party was a client of Gates and 
Manafort.

   The false statements van der Zwaan admitted to making involved the timing of 
his last communication with Gates and a person, described as "Person A," who 
was a longtime business associate of Manafort and Gates in Ukraine.

   According to court papers attached to his plea agreement, the conversations, 
including some using encrypted applications, occurred in September 2016 and 
involved possible criminal charges being brought in Ukraine against a former 
Ukrainian official, Manafort and "Law Firm A," an apparent reference to Skadden 
Arps.

   The Nov. 3, 2017, questioning of van der Zwaan occurred just days after 
Manafort's indictment and, according to court papers, while prosecutors still 
were investigating potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

   The charge against van der Zwaan carries a maximum sentence of five years in 
prison, though sentencing guideline ranges discussed in court placed the more 
likely punishment from zero to six months.

   In addition to the false statements, court papers reveal that in late July 
or early August of 2012, van der Zwaan, without authorization, gave an advance 
draft of the Tymoshenko report to a public relations firm working for the 
Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. In September 2012, he also provided Gates with 
talking points for use in a public relations campaign.

   On Tuesday, Skadden Arps released a statement saying it had fired van der 
Zwaan last year, and it "has been cooperating with authorities in connection 
with this matter."

   "The conduct to which Alex has pled guilty is contrary to our values, 
policies and expectations," the firm added.

   Last year, van der Zwaan married the daughter of Ukrainian-Russian 
billionaire German Khan, according to the Russian editions of Forbes and Tatler 
magazines.

   Khan, who was born in Kiev, shares control of one of Russia's biggest 
financial and industrial investment conglomerates, Alfa Group, with fellow 
billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Alexei Kuzmichev. Forbes estimates Khan is 
worth about $10 billion.

   Khan and his partners are suing Buzzfeed News over its publication of a 
dossier of allegations about ties between Trump and Russia. The dossier, which 
is a collection of memoranda authored by former British spy Christopher Steele, 
makes several claims about Alfa Group that the partners say are false and 
defamatory.

   Buzzfeed is fighting the lawsuit. The dossier has become a political 
lightning rod because Steele's work was funded in part by Clinton's campaign 
and the Democratic National Committee. Parts of Steele's work were also used in 
obtaining a secret warrant to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign 
foreign policy adviser.


(KA)

 
 
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