British tycoon to tell Senate Trump Jr Russia lawyer is linked to secretive group behind Steele Dossier

Mr Trump's eldest son has said he was offered damaging material about Hillary Clinton

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Thursday 13 July 2017 17:37 BST
Ms Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government
Ms Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government (AP)

A British businessman says he will next week testify on Capitol Hill that researchers who helped produce the infamous Steele dossier, previously worked at the direction of the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr, and failed to declare they were doing so.

Fusion GPS was in the headlines earlier this year when it emerged its investigators, and a former British spy, Christopher Steele, had worked to produce a dossier of salacious, unverified claims about Donald Trump that suggested he had been “compromised” by Russian intelligence officials on a visit to Moscow in 2013. Mr Trump called the dossier “fake news”.

Bill Browder, the CEO and founder of Hermitage Capital Management, says he will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the company, which was founded by former journalists, previously worked under the direction of Natalia Veselnitskaya as part of a Russian-led lobbying effort in the US.

Mr Trump Jr has offered to cooperate with Senate investigators (Getty)

Ms Veselnitskaya, a Moscow lawyer with close links to the Kremlin, is the person Mr Trump Jr this week said he was told would provide him with incriminating material on Hillary Clinton - an offer to which he responded by saying “I love it”. She has denied making such an offer.

“The campaign [Fusion] was promoting was on behalf of a foreign nation,” Mr Browder told The Independent. “I believe that Fusion violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)” - a law that requires US companies working on behalf of foreign governments to officially disclose and register their consulting work.

The development comes as the White House is reeling from the admission that Mr Trump’s eldest son, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort, met with Ms Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower last June.

Mr Browder will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Twitter)

Mr Trump Jr said he agreed to the meeting because he was told Ms Veselnitskaya had information from high levels in the Russian establishment that would prove damaging to his father’s Democratic rival, Ms Clinton.

Many have claimed Mr Trump Jr’s admission may amount to admission of a crime. There is widespread recognition that he has at least provided more work for special prosecutor Robert Mueller and his team, which are probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.

Donald Trump Jr defends meeting with Russian lawyer

Mr Browder has received the support of the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley. He has called for the Department of Justice to carry out an investigation.

“The issue is of particular concern to the committee given that when Fusion GPS reportedly was acting as an unregistered agent of Russian interests, it appears to have been simultaneously overseeing the creation of the unsubstantiated dossier of allegations of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” Mr Grassley wrote to the DoJ.

The claims relate to a Russian tycoon, Denis Kaysyv, whose company, Prevezson, was involved in a massive money-laundering case against Mr Browder’s company. That case was settled with the US government for $6m earlier this year in a New York court.

Mr Kaysyv’s chief lawyer was Ms Veselnitskaya, and she and Prevezson retained a New York law firm, BakerHostetler, to help in defending Prevezson. BakerHostetler then hired investigators from Fusion GPS to help. Fusion GPS said it was retained specifically to work on an asset forfeiture issue in relation to the case. But Mr Browder claims they also helped Ms Veselnitskaya in her attempts to overturn the US Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act was passed in 2012 to sanction a group of Russians the US held responsible for the mysterious 2009 death in jail of Sergei Magnitsky, Mr Browder’s Russian lawyer who exposed money laundering said to total $230m.

The passage of the act is said to have infuriated Vladimir Putin who sought to have it overturned. He responded by making it more difficult for American couples to adopt Russian babies.

Ms Veselnitskaya was central in the lobbying effort to overturn the act. In addition, Mr Katsyv, the owner of Prevezon whom Ms Veselnitskaya represents, registered a nonprofit company in Delaware called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF) in February 2016, which says its aim is to overturn the adoption ban but which Mr Browder said is simply a front to overturn the Magnitsky Act, which he helped push.

“Natalia was the general coordinator for all of Katsyv’s legal activities,” he said.

 Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who set-up Orbis Business Intelligence and compiled a dossier on Donald Trump 
 (PA wire)

In a legal filing to the Department of Justice, Mr Browder said Ms Veselnitskaya has been helping promote the efforts of HRAGIF, while its registered lobbyist was Rinat Akhmetshin. In his letter to the DoJ, Mr Grassley refers to reports that say he is former member of Russia’s GRU, the main military intelligence agency.

Mr Akhmetshin did not respond to inquiries. However, he has previously denied working for the Russian government. “Just because I was born in Russia doesn’t mean I am an agent of [the] Kremlin,” he told Politico earlier this year.

Fusion GPS, which in 2012 did opposition research to dig up information about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has denied any wrongdoing and said that at no time did it take part in lobbying. As a result, it says it is not in breach of FARA.

On Wednesday, Mr Grassley’s committee said that the co-founder of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, a former journalist with the Wall Street Journal, would also be testifying next week.

In a statement, Fusion GPS said: “Fusion GPS was engaged by a US law firm, BakerHostetler, to perform public records litigation support in a US asset seizure case, US v Prevezon. It’s work is a matter of public record.”

It added: “Fusion GPS is not a lobbying firm and engaged in no lobbying in this case. Any suggestion to the contrary is entirely false.”

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