Judge denies request to return to U.S. by Russian lawyer who met Trump Jr.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday denied a request for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, to return to the United States to attend a hearing over an unpaid $6 million settlement in an international money laundering case.

FILE PHOTO: Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kommersant Photo/Yury Martyanov/File Photo

In an order filed in Manhattan federal court, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said Veselnitskaya’s immigration status was “squarely within the purview of the executive branch.”

Veselnitskaya represented Prevezon Holdings Ltd, a Russian-controlled company, which in May agreed to pay nearly $6 million to settle a U.S. government lawsuit accusing it of laundering proceeds of a $230 million tax fraud. Her temporary permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to enter the United States while working on the case has expired.

Following Pauley’s order on Monday, a U.S. lawyer for Prevezon filed a letter asking that Veselnitskaya be allowed to appear by telephone at the hearing, which is scheduled for Nov. 9.

The hearing is expected to focus on whether the settlement payment was due on Oct. 31, as the U.S. government has maintained. Prevezon disputed that in a letter filed on Oct. 31.

About half of the settlement money was supposed to come from 3 million euros owed to Prevezon the Netherlands had frozen at the United States’ request, according to the letter.

The Netherlands lifted the freeze on Oct. 10, but the same day imposed a new freeze based on a complaint by William Browder, chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management, Prevezon’s letter said.

Browder has said that the underlying $230 million tax fraud was uncovered by a former Hermitage auditor, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009.

In its letter, Prevezon asked the court to help obtain temporary U.S. immigration status for Veselnitskaya and its owner, Denis Katsyv, so they could attend hearings.

Veselnitskaya met Donald Trump Jr in New York last year.

Trump Jr. said in a statement at the time that he and Veselnitskaya “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” after Russia in 2012 banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans in retaliation for sanctions imposed under the U.S. Magnitsky Act.

The 2012 law was intended to punish Russian officials responsible for Magnitsky’s death.

Trump Jr. has released emails related to the meeting during last year’s election that described Veselnitskaya as a Russian government attorney who could provide information that would “incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker