Thu, Apr 05, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US jails, fines Dutch attorney

FIRST CONVICT:While not directly related to the special counsel’s investigation, the case against Van der Zwaan exposed senior Trump aides’ connections with Russia

AP, WASHINGTON

Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan, second left, is greeted by a protester as he leaves a federal district court in Washington on Tuesday.

Photo: AP

A Dutch attorney who lied to US federal agents investigating Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for now-US President Donald Trump, was on Tuesday sentenced to 30 days in prison in the first punishment handed down in the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

He was also ordered to pay a US$20,000 fine.

Alex van der Zwaan’s sentence could set a guidepost for what other defendants charged with lying in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation might receive when their cases are resolved. Among them are a former White House national security adviser and a Trump campaign foreign policy aide.

Van der Zwaan, 33, had faced up to six months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, and his attorneys had pushed for him to pay a fine and leave the country.

However, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, citing the need to deter others from lying in an investigation of international importance, said incarceration was necessary.

Being able to “write a check and walk away,” would not fit the seriousness of the crime or send the right message, Jackson said.

The criminal case against Van der Zwaan is not directly related to Russian election interference, the main focus of Mueller’s probe.

However, it has revealed new details about the government’s case against Manafort and opened a window into the intersecting universes of international law, foreign consulting work and politics.

The case has also exposed connections between senior Trump campaign aides, including Rick Gates, and Russia.

Just last week, the government disclosed that Van der Zwaan and Gates spoke during the 2016 presidential campaign with a man Gates had previously described as having ties to the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, its military intelligence agency.

Gates is now cooperating with Mueller.

During the hearing on Tuesday, Van der Zwaan made only a brief statement, telling Jackson: “Your honor, what I did was wrong. I apologize to the court. I apologize to my wife.”

Van der Zwaan, who was fired last year by high-powered international law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, admitted in February to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Gates and the person with ties to Russian intelligence.

Van der Zwaan had previously grown close to Manafort, Gates and the person, Konstantin Kilimnik, during his work on a 2012 report commissioned by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice.

The report, written by the law firm, was about the corruption trial of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Kilimnik, who was born in Ukraine while it was a Soviet republic, has previously denied having any relation to Russian intelligence services.

Although prosecutors did not take a position on whether Van der Zwaan should be locked up, they stressed that he had lied “repeatedly” to investigators.

“This is not an isolated instance of bad judgment or criminal conduct,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said.

Van der Zwaan’s attorneys argued that he had suffered enough already.

His life has been destroyed by his “terrible decision” to lie to federal authorities, they said.

The defense pushed Jackson to allow Van der Zwaan to return to London, where he lives with his wife, who is going through a difficult pregnancy.

“He has been here well over four months without a home, without his wife and without his family,” attorney William Schwartz said. “He is literally in limbo.”

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