Struck-off solicitor receives pardon from President Trump

Trump: Solicitor’s underlying conduct not unlawful

A solicitor struck off for making false statements to the Mueller inquiry into alleged Russian involvement in the election of US president Donald Trump has received a presidential pardon.

Alex van der Zwaan was jailed for 30 days in 2018 after pleading guilty, and last year admitted his misconduct before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

He admitted too that he had acted dishonestly, meaning the “only appropriate and proportionate sanction” was to strike him off, the tribunal said.

The Dutch-born solicitor qualified in the London office of US firm Skadden in 2009 and remained there until he was sacked in November 2017 for gross misconduct after he admitted to making the false statements.

In April 2018, a federal judge in Washington sentenced him to 30 days in jail and fined him $20,000 after accepting a plea deal. The maximum sentence was five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He was the fourth person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe, but the first to be formally sentenced.

A statement from the White House yesterday said: “Mr van der Zwaan was charged with a process-related crime, one count of making false statements, in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“None of his underlying conduct was alleged to have been unlawful, nor did prosecutors note any prior criminal history. Mr van der Zwaan is a Dutch national who voluntarily returned to the United States to correct his statements and surrendered his passport upon entry.”

The solicitor was questioned in relation to a report written by Skadden for Ukraine’s ministry of justice on the 2011 prosecution and trial of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

As part of that, Skadden worked with Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, who was found guilty of fraud in 2018, and his business associate Rick Gates.

Mr van der Zwaan admitted to lying to the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) about his last contact with both Mr Gates and a former Russian intelligence officer working for the Ukraine government, Konstantine Kilimnik, about the report, and also not producing an email between him and Mr Kilimnik.

He said he did so because he was represented at the interview by lawyers from Skadden and he did not want to admit that, following the call with Mr Kilimnik, he had spoken to his supervising partner on the phone and recorded their conversation.

This was because of concerns that Skadden was not taking what he believed to be appropriate measures to address the situation unfolding in Ukraine, where a change of government meant that Skadden was now under investigation in the country.

The agreed outcome recorded: “When, near the end of the eight-hour interview, he was asked about his communication with Mr Gates and Mr Kilimnik, he found himself in a difficult and stressful situation.

“He had no concerns about revealing these communications to the OSC but he panicked at the thought of revealing to Skadden that he had recorded his conversation [with the partner].

“Therefore, the respondent, exhausted after many hours of intense interview and cognisant of the fact that his counsel was also his employer, made the catastrophic decision not to disclose the [calls].”

In mitigation, Mr van der Zwaan said he quickly regretted what he had done and sought to put it right. “He himself voluntarily came forward to correct what he had stated and this is what led to his conviction.”

He pointed out that the incorrect answers had brought no benefit to him and provided testimonials to show his actions were “completely out of character”.

He also outlined personal mitigation, including his new wife “finding it hard to cope with his continuous and prolonged absences from home due to the demands placed upon him by his work”.

Last year, Skadden agreed to pay $4.6m (£3.5m) and register as a ‘foreign agent’ after admitting to misleading the US government over work done for Ukraine.

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