In March, U.S. Attorney Preet Bhrara was abruptly fired by Donald Trump, even though Trump had previously called Bhrara to Trump Tower and assured him he could keep his job after Trump took office. At the time, Bhrara was overseeing a case against Russian mobsters accused of massive money laundering. That case was abruptly settled in May by Bhrara’s replacement and raised eyebrows at the time. From CNN in May:
The case aimed to expose how Russian mobsters allegedly stole $230 million and hid some of the cash in New York City real estate. Also sure to come up was the suspicious death of the Russian lawyer who exposed the alleged fraud, though US prosecutors weren’t alleging that the defendants were behind it.
The trial was set to start on Monday, but late Friday night, federal prosecutors in New York announced they settled the case with Prevezon, the company accused of buying up “high-end commercial space and luxury apartments” with laundered money.
The abrupt conclusion has some involved in the trial wondering why this Russian investigation had been cut short.
“What most concerns me is: Has there been any political pressure applied in this?” asked Louise Shelley, an illicit finance expert who was set to testify in support of the US government on Tuesday.
Wow, Denys Katsyv, the owner of Prevezon, must’ve had one fantastic lawyer to make this all go away. What was her name? Natalia Veselnitskaya. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because she is also the same attorney who flew from Moscow to meet with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower. And Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee want serious answers from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about why this case was so abruptly dropped in May.
The facts underlying the Prevezon case—including the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who uncovered the fraud, in a Russian prison—led to the passage of unprecedented sanctions against the Russian officials thought to be complicit.
Nevertheless, two days before trial was set to begin, the Department agreed to settle this $230 million case for less than $6 million and no admission of wrongdoing. Ms. Veselnitskaya told one Russian news outlet that the penalty was so light that it seemed “almost an apology from the government.”
The committee followed that with five critical questions they want the Attorney General to answer by July 26, 2017. Read their full letter below.