A Dutch attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to the FBI about his work with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, two former Trump campaign aides who were indicted in October on charges stemming from work for pro-Russian interests.
The guilty plea by Alex Van Der Zwaan, son-in-law of a Russian oligarch, is the latest move from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Van Der Zwaan said little Tuesday as he stood before Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where he pleaded guilty to making false statements about his conversations with Mr. Gates and someone identified in court documents as Person A.
It’s not yet clear how Van Der Zwaan’s actions relate to the core of Mr. Mueller’s probe into Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election.
The 33-year-old lawyer had worked for the London office of law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meager & Flom. The firm had drafted a 2012 report on behalf of the Ukrainian government defending the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister.
Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, imprisoned Ms. Tymoshenko for her controversial 2009 gas supply deal with Russia. Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort, who were indicted in October on money laundering and fraud charges, lobbied on behalf of Mr. Yanukovych. They are accused of secretly funneling $4 million from an offshore bank account to pay for the Ukrainian report.
It is not clear from court documents whether Van Der Zwaan was involved in preparing the report.
Prosecutors charged that Van Der Zwaan secretly recorded telephone conversations with Mr. Gates in September 2016, but the content of those conversations were not revealed in court.
Van Der Zwaan was questioned by investigators on Nov. 3, just days after the indictment against Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates became public, according to court documents. At the time Van Der Zwaan told FBI agents his last communication with Mr. Gates was an “innocuous” text message in mid-August 2016. He also said his last communication with Person A was in 2014 and he didn’t know why the special counsel’s prove had been given a 2016 email exchange with that person.
On Tuesday, Van Der Zwaan admitted he had exchanged emails, failed to turn them over to investigators and had destroyed evidence of the communications without telling his lawyer. He also admitted to the September 2016 conversation with Mr. Gates about the Tymoshenko report.
Van Der Zwaan is the son-in-law of German Khan, a Russian oligarch who filed a libel suit in October against Fusion GPS, the firm behind a discredited intelligence dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 3. Van Der Zwaan faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and supervised release of up to three years. But Judge Jackson said his sentence could to reduced to six months because he has a clean record and had cooperated with the government.
William Schwartz, a defense attorney representing Van Der Zwaan asked for expedited sentencing so he can be with his pregnant wife who is due to give birth to the couple’s first child in August.
Van Der Zwaan is the third person charged with lying to federal agents and the fourth person to plead guilty to federal charges as a result of Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Last week, Mr. Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian internet companies with conspiracy alleging they waged a social media campaign to influence the U.S. election.