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Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Lying About Conversation with Manafort Aide Gates

Alex van der Zwaan leaves Federal District Court in Washington on Feb. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — The son-in-law of a Russian oligarch pleaded guilty to lying to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about his contacts with Rick Gates shortly before the presidential election.

Alex van der Zwaan, who worked in London for New York law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, appeared today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was charged Friday, the same day that grand jury indictments were unveiled against Russians connected to a campaign influence operation.

Gates, who was Paul Manafort’s top deputy when Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager, was indicted at the end of October on money laundering and conspiracy charges along with his former boss. The Los Angeles Times reported that Gates will flip to a guilty plea in the coming days and potentially testify against Manafort.

Manafort worked for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in the 2010 election, when he was challenged by Orange Revolution opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. A year after Yanukovych’s victory, Tymoshenko was arrested and charged with corruption offenses. Facing backlash over the political motivation of the charges — for which she was exonerated years later — Yanukovych’s government asked Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to compile a report in 2012 that said politics did not have an effect on the prosecution.

According to court documents, van der Zwaan lied to Mueller’s investigators Nov. 3 while answering questions about the Tymoshenko report in regards to his last communication with Gates and an unidentified individual in Ukraine referred to as Person A, a “longtime business associate” of Manafort and Gates. Van der Zwaan said his last communication with Gates had been an “innocuous text message” in mid-August 2016 and that he hadn’t spoken with Person A since 2014, when in reality he spoke with both Gates and Person A about the Tymoshenko report in September 2016 “and surreptitiously recorded the calls.”

While Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016, Gates stayed on through the election and then worked for the Trump inaugural committee.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom said the firm fired van der Zwaan last year, and the FBI is now holding the Dutch citizen’s passport. The lawyer is married to the daughter of German Khan, a director and co-owner of Alfa Bank. Last year, it was reported that the FBI was investigating potential server connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.

The guilty plea to making false statements to the Special Counsel’s Office carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.