A former lawyer of a top campaign aide of US President Donald Trump has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $20,000 for lying to the special counsel in an ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
Alex van der Zwaan – a Dutch national who faced up to six months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines – is the first person to have been indicted in connection with the case.
Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC on Tuesday, said Van der Zwaan’s trial was not due to any collusion with the Russians.
“What he has been sentenced for has rather to do with the act of lying in itself,” he said.
Robert Mueller‘s investigation has widened its scope in recent months and is now looking more broadly at all the business dealings that took place within Trump’s orbit.
Van der Zwaan was hired by Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, in an unrelated job to help launch a public relations campaign aimed at improving the image of the now-ousted President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich.
The corporate lawyer was asked to produce a document to whitewash Yanukovich’s arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who had mocked a Ukrainian court years before the 2016 elections.
“The reason why he’s going to jail [is] he lied about the communications he had with Rick Gates and another business partner of Paul Manafort in Ukraine as part of the investigation,” Rattansi said.
“What this is being seen as is a warning by the special counsel, do not lie to us, do not withhold information, we will catch you and you will go to jail.”
While Van der Zwaan’s lawyers hoped to settle the case with a fine and an immediate expulsion from the US, District Judge Amy Burman deemed the incarceration more fitting so as to deter others from lying in investigations of such importance.
The 33-year-old admitted to lying to federal agents earlier in February.
Prosecutors at the time did not take a position on whether he should be locked up but stressed instead he had lied to investigators “repeatedly”.
“What I did was wrong. I apologise to this court, and I apologise to my wife,” Van der Zwann, who is the son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan, said at the hearing.