- A federal judge in New York has denied a request for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to enter the US to represent her client, Prevezon, in court.
- “Prevezon offers very little, if anything, to justify its request,” the judge wrote on Friday.
- The judge said in his ruling on Friday that, had Prevezon not settled in May, “the trial would have showcased a tale of international intrigue.”
A federal judge in New York has denied a request by the Russian-owned real-estate firm Prevezon to grant temporary immigration parole to its lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, according to a court document filed late Friday afternoon.
Prevezon has still not paid the $US5.9 million it owes the US government as part of a civil forfeiture settlement the parties reached in May, according to the government. Prosecutors now want to re-open the case in New York, and Prevezon wants Veselnitskaya there for the proceedings.
But Judge William H. Pauley III ruled on Friday that “in-person meetings with counsel… do not justify the exercise of its immigration parole authority.”
“Prevezon offers very little, if anything, to justify its request,” Pauley wrote.
The Prevezon case was set to go to trial in New York in May but was suddenly settled for $US5.9 million three days before the first court date.
The government described the settlement as a victory against corruption, but Prevezon characterised it as proof that the company had done nothing wrong. It said it considered the “surprise” offer from prosecutors “too good to refuse.”
“It was a surprise,” said John Dillard, a spokesman for Prevezon’s attorneys. “We were getting ready for opening statements and fully expected to try the case. In fact, we were looking forward to it.”
Over five months later, however, Prevezon has still not paid — and the company will have to go back to court without Veselnitskaya there.
Pauley implied in his ruling on Friday that Prevezon should have been eager to pay the $US5.9 million because, absent settlement, “the trial would have showcased a tale of international intrigue — a massive tax fraud in Russia resulting in the transfer of $US230 million through a Byzantine web of shell companies.”
The investigation into whether Prevezon, which is incorporated in Cyprus, laundered millions of dollars into New York City property garnered high-profile attention given its ties to a $US230 million Russian tax-fraud scheme and Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death aroused international media attention.
The US government had been investigating the $US230 million scheme that Magnitsky uncovered — and what happened to the proceeds — for nearly four years. Prosecutors said the funds from the elaborate scheme had been laundered via shell companies and real-estate purchases.
The trail ultimately led to Manhattan, where Preet Bharara, then the US attorney there, accused Prevezon in September 2013 of receiving “at least $US1,965,444 in proceeds from the $US230 million fraud scheme” in early 2008 via wire transfers from at least two suspected shell companies through the Southern District of New York. The company then invested those funds “in various New York properties,” according to the complaint.
Pauley wrote on Friday that “in view of recent revelations regarding Russia’s outsized influence, there may have been more to this money laundering case than a few luxury condominiums at 20 Pine Street.”
Veselnitskaya famously attended a meeting last June at Trump Tower with several of Donald Trump’s campaign advisers — Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. She brought with her a memo that closely mirrored one written by the Russian prosecutor’s office two months earlier, suggesting she was dispatched to the meeting with the Kremlin’s blessing — or under its direction.
Read Pauley’s memorandum below:
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