A Russian official accused of directing the foreign operations of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who met senior Trump campaign officials in 2016, has plummeted to his death in a helicopter crash.
Russian Deputy Attorney General Saak Albertovich Karapetyan was exposed in a Swiss court this year for a plot to enlist another nation’s law-enforcement official as a double-agent for the Kremlin.
Media reports in Russia say he died Wednesday night when his helicopter crashed into a forest during an unauthorized flight in the Kostroma region, northeast of Moscow.
Karapetyan, 58, was intimately familiar with some of the most notorious operations carried out under the orders of Vladimir Putin. He worked closely with Veselnitskaya as well as running some of Moscow’s most high-profile efforts to thwart international investigations into Russia’s alleged crimes.
It was Karapetyan who signed a letter from the Russian government refusing to help the U.S. in a civil case it was pursuing linked to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was trying to expose a $230 million fraud in Russia. Leaked emails have since shown that Veselnitskaya helped to draft the document sent with that letter.
Karapetyan has been involved in efforts to foil international investigations for more than a decade. The Daily Beast reported that he was present for a meeting in Moscow where British detectives claim they were poisoned during efforts to track down the killers of Alexander Litvinenko, who died after a dose of radioactive poison in London in 2006.
Despite claims that they were trying to help, the general prosecutor’s office did everything it could to block the Scotland Yard investigation.
Earlier this year, Karapetyan lashed out at Britain in the aftermath of the Novichok attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. He linked Skripal, Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky, a high-profile critic of Putin who died of suspected suicide in 2013.
“The British authorities have based the anti-Russian campaign surrounding the poisoning of former GRU officer Skripal and his daughter on a provocative scenario. A similar scenario was used in baseless allegations of Russia’s attempt on the life of Boris Berezovsky in London in summer 2003 and the circumstances surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko in the U.K. in November 2006,” Karapetyan said, according to Interfax.
On Wednesday night, the wreckage of a helicopter believed to have been carrying Karapetyan was found near the village of Vonyshevo. Video purported to be from the scene shows the chopper mangled and burnt out amid twisted tree trunks.
It is not known why experienced pilot Stanislav Mikhnov, 54, reportedly decided to take off after nightfall in adverse conditions without authorities’ approval. A third man, Arek Harutyunyan, was also killed, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
Karapetyan’s links to Veselnitskaya emerged this year, when a case in Switzerland exposed the pair’s operation to recruit a high-level law-enforcement official who was supposed to be investigating the Swiss bank accounts of Russian oligarchs and mobsters.
The top investigator was fired for “unauthorized clandestine behavior,” and allegations of bribery and breaching secrecy laws. The Swiss authorities discovered that the officer—who was identified only as Victor K.—had met Karapetyan in Geneva and Zurich. Before Christmas 2016, Karapetyan telephoned the official and invited him to Moscow, where he was put up in a luxury hotel and asked to attend a meeting with Veselnitskaya.
It is likely that the meeting with Veselnitskaya concerned the fallout from the death of Magnitsky, who had been working to expose a massive fraud that implicated the Kremlin when he was incarcerated, beaten, and left to die.
In the aftermath of his death, the lawyer’s client, Bill Browder, campaigned to enact a series of anti-corruption laws all over the world in his name. The U.S. Magnitsky Act was passed in 2012.
Veselnitskaya was one of the top advocates lobbying to overturn these global Magnitsky laws, which have reportedly absolutely infuriated Putin.
When she arranged to meet Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner at the infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016, she was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton allegedly given to her by Karapetyan’s general prosecutor’s office, according to the emails of introduction, which have since been leaked. Once inside, we now know that she attempted to lobby the senior Trump officials on the Magnitsky case.
Karapetyan and Veselnitskaya also worked together on another job linked to Magnitsky. The U.S. authorities brought a civil case against a company called Prevezon for its alleged links to laundering proceeds of the fraud that Magnitsky uncovered.
In April, emails obtained by Dossier, an anti-Putin campaign set up by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and published by The New York Times, showed that Veselnitskaya had helped to draft a document on behalf of the Russian government that explained why Moscow would not help with the fraud case against Prevezon.
Rather than engage with the allegations against Prevezon, much of the document was a personal attack on Browder. The cover letter that accompanied the document was signed by Karapetyan.
The refusal to help provide documents from inside Russia—orchestrated by Karapetyan and Veselnitskaya—likely contributed to the authorities’ ultimate decision to settle the case. Prevezon agreed to pay $5.9 million, but it did not admit any role in laundering the proceeds of the fraud.