Another Mueller Indictment

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged Dutch lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan with making false statements to FBI investigators. Van Der Zwaan, who was officially charged on Feb. 16 in a federal court in Washington, has a plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. EST.

According to the indictment, the false statements came when Mueller’s team probed Van Der Zwaan’s work for the Ukraine Ministry of Justice, and include lying about his interactions with Rick Gates, the Paul Manafort associate and former Trump campaign adviser who was indicted by Mueller last fall.

Van Der Zwaan was charged with lying to investigators about conversations related to a report he helped prepare on the trial of a Ukrainian politician, Yulia Tymoshenko.

The lawyer also reportedly lied about his talks with someone else, named “Person A” in the indictment. 

Prosecutors said Van Der Zwaan also deleted and failed to turn over emails requested by the special counsel and a law firm.

Alex Van der Zwaan is the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, an owner of Alfa Group. Khan and his Alfa Bank partners filed a $75K defamation suit against Glen Simpson and Fusion GPS over the firm’s role in producing the Steele dossier.

Here’s the backstory: In the early 2010s, van der Zwaan was working in the London office of Skadden Arps, one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporate law firms. His work seemed to focus on the former Soviet Union.

During this same time period, Manafort and Gates were working for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — a Kremlin-backed leader with dubious democratic credentials.

Yanukovych was in the midst of a power struggle with another prominent Ukrainian politician, which he decided to solve by jailing her in the fall of 2011. Manafort and Gates’s job was to run cover for this clearly undemocratic prosecution. So they retained a team from Skadden Arps, which included van der Zwaan, to put together a “report” that conveniently concluded that there was no political motive for putting her in jail.

This was a big deal in Ukraine but a relatively obscure issue for most of the rest of the world. Manafort and Gates continued their work for Yanukovych afterward, and van der Zwaan moved on to other things — most notably marrying Eva Khan, the daughter of Ukrainian-Russian billionaire German Khan, in the summer of 2017. (One of Khan’s companies is, somewhat curiously, mentioned in the infamous Steele dossier.)

But the Mueller investigation would soon deliver van der Zwaan an unhappy honeymoon. In the process of looking into Manafort and Gates’s ties to the Kremlin, Mueller’s team started investigating the Skadden Arps report. According to the indictment, FBI agents personally questioned van der Zwaan in November 2017 about his communications with Gates and an unidentified Person A (which seems likely to be Manafort, though that’s not 100 percent clear).

Van der Zwaan told them that his last communication with Gates was in August 2016 and was an “innocuous text message,” and that he hadn’t spoken to Person A since 2014. This, according to the indictment, is a lie — van der Zwaan was actually secretly communicating with Gates and Person A about the Skadden report.

“In or about September 2016, he spoke with both Gates and Person A regarding the Report, and surreptitiously recorded the call,” the indictment says.

The indictment also alleges that van der Zwaan deleted an email between himself and Person A sent around the same time as those conversations — and told the FBI that he “did not know” where the email was.

This clearly relates to Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who finds himself in very hot water. Federal law enforcement officials have identified more than $40 million in “suspicious” financial transactions to and from companies controlled by Manafort — a much larger sum than was cited in his October indictment on money laundering charges.

The vast web of transactions was unraveled mainly in 2014 and 2015 during an FBI operation to fight international kleptocracy that ultimately fizzled. The story of that failed effort — and its resurrection by special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election — has never been fully told.

But it explains how the special counsel was able to swiftly bring charges against Manafort for complex financial crimes dating as far back as 2008 — and it shows that Mueller could still wield immense leverage as he seeks to compel Manafort to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

Last week, Mueller’s team told a judge that it had evidence Manafort committed bank fraud, and news organizations have reported that the special counsel may be preparing additional charges.

The atty who was charged by Mueller today, Alex Van Der Zwaan, was 1 of 8 Skadden Arps attorneys involved in writing a report commissioned by manafort that whitewashed Yanukovych’s record, according to Ukrainian prosecutors.

I can’t emphasize how unusual and shocking it is that an attorney for a prestigious, international law firm was charged by Mueller for lying about his work at the firm.  Lawyers — particularly lawyers at a top law firm — should know better than to lie to the FBI. His conduct as described in the charging document suggests he had something to hide. As others have reported, his father-in-law is a Russian oligarch. This charge sends a message to every potential witness in the Mueller investigation—you will be charged if you lie to the FBI. It raises the stakes for “minor” witnesses, suggesting that Mueller will charge any probable violation related to obstructing his investigation.