Dutch lawyer sentenced to 30 days in jail in Russia probe

Dutch lawyer sentenced to 30 days in jail in Russia probe
Paul Manafort.

A Dutch lawyer who lied to federal agents investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been sentenced to 30 days in prison in the first punishment handed down in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Alex van der Zwaan's sentence could set a guidepost for what other defendants charged with lying in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation may 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, who was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine, had faced up to six months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, and his lawyers had pushed for him to pay a fine and leave the country.

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

"These were not mistakes. These were lies," Ms Jackson told van der Zwaan as he stood before her. Being able to "write a cheque and walk away," she added later, would not fit the seriousness of the crime or send the right message.

The criminal case against van der Zwaan is not directly related to Russian election interference, the main focus of Mr Mueller's probe. But it has revealed new details about the government's case against Mr 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 Mr Gates spoke during the 2016 presidential campaign with a man Mr Gates had previously described as having ties to the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. Mr Gates is now cooperating with Mr Mueller.

US President Donald Trump.
US President Donald Trump.

During the hearing on Tuesday, van der Zwaan made only a brief statement, telling Ms Jackson, "Your Honour, what I did was wrong. I apologise to the court. I apologise to my wife."

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

Van der Zwaan had previously grown close to Mr Manafort, Mr 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. Mr Kilimnik, who was born in Ukraine while it was a Soviet republic, has previously denied having any relation to Russian intelligence services.

Though 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 lawyers argued that he had suffered enough already. His life has been destroyed by his "terrible decision" to lie to federal authorities, they said. The lawyers pushed Ms 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," his lawyer, William Schwartz, said. "He is literally in limbo.

Mr Schwartz stressed that his client had made the effort to return to the US to "correct the record" after he lied to the special counsel's office, though prosecutors took issue with the characterisation, noting that van der Zwaan was under a grand jury subpoena at the time.

Ms Jackson said she recognised that van der Zwaan has been away from his family for months, but the defence's attempts to paint him as a tragic figure did not ring true.

"This is not something that happened to him. He did not suffer unavoidable circumstances of tragedy. This is something he did," she said.

Jackson also said his signs of remorse were relatively "muted". He did not write a letter to the judge, as his family and friends did, and has not used his time in the US to perform community service or other good deeds to make up for his actions, she said.

In addition to the prison time and fine, Ms Jackson imposed two months of supervised released. She allowed him to voluntarily surrender to prison authorities.

- PA

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