Dutch lawyer jailed for lying in Mueller's investigation

Alex van der Zwaan (third from right) exiting the Federal Court in Washington on Tuesday. He has been sentenced to 30 days in prison, two months of supervised release and fined.
Alex van der Zwaan (third from right) exiting the Federal Court in Washington on Tuesday. He has been sentenced to 30 days in prison, two months of supervised release and fined.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Son-in-law of Russian billionaire had lied about contact with senior official in Trump's presidential campaign

WASHINGTON • The Dutch son-in-law of one of Russia's richest men has been sentenced to 30 days in prison and fined US$20,000 (S$26,000) for lying to US special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators about contacts with an official in Mr Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who once worked closely with Mr Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was also sentenced to two months of supervised release by United States District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday.

He pleaded guilty on Feb 20 as Mr Mueller intensified his investigation into potential collusion between Mr Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. It marked the first sentencing of anyone in Mr Mueller's ongoing probe.

In pleading guilty, he admitted that he lied to FBI agents about previous communications with Rick Gates, a Manafort protege who held a senior position in the Trump campaign, and that he also withheld and deleted e-mails.

"What I did was wrong. I apologise to this court, and I apologise to my wife," van der Zwaan said at the sentencing hearing.

Van der Zwaan's attorney asked the judge to impose only a fine and allow his client to leave the country, saying he had already been punished enough and should receive credit for returning to the US last year to correct the record after lying to Mr Mueller's investigators.

ADMITTING WRONG

What I did was wrong. I apologise to this court, and I apologise to my wife.

ALEX VAN DER ZWAAN, at the sentencing hearing.


SERIOUS ACTION

This was more than a mistake. It was more than a lapse or misguided moment.

US DISTRICT COURT JUDGE AMY BERMAN JACKSON

Since his return to the US last December, his lawyer said, van der Zwaan has been walled up in a residential hotel in Washington and unable to return to London, where his wife is undergoing a difficult first pregnancy.

Van der Zwaan, 33, is married to the daughter of prominent Russian billionaire German Khan, founder of the privately owned Alfa Bank. Van der Zwaan previously worked for the law firm Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.

Van der Zwaan's apology and explanations for his actions appeared to ring hollow to the judge.

"This was more than a mistake. It was more than a lapse or misguided moment," Judge Jackson had said.

The judge added that she was disappointed van der Zwaan did not write a letter to the court on his own behalf to express remorse, and said it would not deter others if she let him merely "write a cheque and walk away".

Van der Zwaan worked closely with Manafort and Gates in 2012, before their involvement in the Trump campaign, when they were serving as political consultants to Ukraine's pro-Russia former president Viktor Yanukovych on a report about former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Mr Mueller has secured two indictments against Manafort arising from his lobbying for Ukraine's pro-Russia Party of Regions, with charges ranging from failing to register as a foreign agent and conspiring to launder money, to bank fraud and filing false tax returns.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

Gates pleaded guilty on Feb 23 to conspiring to defraud the US and lying to Mr Mueller's office, and is now cooperating with the probe.

Manafort was yesterday trying to convince Judge Jackson to throw out criminal charges filed against him by Mr Mueller, arguing that the special counsel had overstepped his legal authority.

Manafort filed a civil lawsuit on Jan 3 against Mr Mueller and Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who appointed him, in a key legal test of how far the special counsel's mandate extends.

Wednesday's hearing will mark the first time that Manafort's lawyer will get a chance to persuade Judge Jackson that Mr Mueller's investigation has run amok and needs to be reined in.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Mr Trump is under investigation by Mr Mueller but is not currently considered a criminal target.

The newspaper, quoting three anonymous sources, said that Mr Mueller considers Mr Trump a subject of the investigation, meaning there is currently not enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

Additionally, Mr Mueller told the President's lawyers that he is preparing a report on Mr Trump's actions and possible obstruction of justice, the Washington Post said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2018, with the headline 'Dutch lawyer jailed for lying in Mueller's investigation'. Print Edition | Subscribe