Criminal Justice

Former BigLaw associate pleads guilty in Mueller probe to lying about contacts and deleted emails

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Special counsel Robert Mueller

Updated: A former London associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom has pleaded guilty to making false statements about deleted emails and the timing of his contacts with an indicted individual in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Alex van der Zwaan was charged in an information made public Tuesday. He pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to lying to investigators, report the New York Times and Bloomberg News. The National Law Journal posted the statement of offense filed in connection with the guilty plea.

Van der Zwaan is accused of lying in connection with his Ukraine work as a lawyer for Skadden. The New York Times, Bloomberg News, Politico, the National Law Journal and CNBC had stories on the charge.

Prosecutors claim Van der Zwaan lied about his communications with “Person A” and with Rick Gates, who was indicted in the Mueller probe in October.

Person A is a longtime Ukraine business associate of Gates and Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, according to the statement of offense. Gates was accused, along with Manafort, of laundering money received for work done for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Skadden was hired in 2012 by the Ukraine Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival to Yanukovych. According to reporting by the New York Times, Manafort had arranged for Skadden to write the report in an effort to counter allegations that Yanukovych’s government prosecuted Tymoshenko for political reasons. Some later cited Skadden’s report to justify the jailing of Tymoshenko.

The information alleges Van der Zwaan falsely said his last communication with Gates was in August 2016 and his last communication with “Person ‘A” was in 2014. In reality he spoke with both Gates and “Person A” in September 2016 and secretly recorded the calls, the information says. Prosecutors also say Van der Zwaan partly recorded a phone call with a senior partner at “Law Firm A,” an apparent reference to Skadden.

Van der Zwaan told investigators he had a passive role in the roll-out of the report on Tymoshenko’s trial, but he actually gave an advance copy of the report, without authorization, to a public relations firm retained by the Urkaine Ministry of Justice, prosecutors say.

Van der Zwaan is also accused of falsely saying he didn’t know why an email between him and “Person A” was not produced to the special counsel’s office. In reality he “deleted and otherwise did not provide emails sought by the special counsel’s office” and by Law Firm A, prosecutors say.

Van der Zwaan is the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan. The government of Yanukovych was aligned with Russia, and Yanukovych fled there after his ouster.

Skadden released this statement: “The firm terminated its employment of Alex van der Zwaan in 2017 and has been cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter.”

The Skadden report on Tymoshenko’s trial said she was denied counsel at critical stages of her trial but her conviction was supported by evidence.

Sentencing for Van der Zwaan is scheduled for April 3.

Updated the afternoon of Feb. 20 to report on the guilty plea and statement of offense.

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