In a development that's sure to fire up the conspiracy theory machine, a Russian official with close ties to Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - the lawyer who had promised to deliver "dirt" on Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort during a meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 - reportedly died in a helicopter crash this week, according to The Daily Beast.
Russian Deputy Attorney General Saak Albertovich Karapetyan was reportedly flying on an unauthorized helicopter flight on Wednesday when it crashed near the village of Vonyshevo, outside of Moscow.
Karapetyan's work for the Russian government was exposed by a Swiss court this year after it exposed a plot to flip a local official into a double-agent for the Kremlin. Karapetyan, who was 58 when he died, was reportedly familiar with some of the most high-profile clandestine operations carried out under the orders of Vladimir Putin. Not only did he work closely with Veselnitskaya, he was also running some of Moscow’s most high-profile efforts to thwart international investigations into Russia’s alleged crimes.
In one instance, Karapetyan signed a letter from the Russian government telling the US that Moscow wouldn't help with a civil case pursuing more information in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who had reportedly tried to expose a $230 million fraud before being jailed on tax-related charges that political opponents said were political retribution for his targeting of senior Russian officials. Leaked emails reported by the New York Times showed Veselnitskaya helped draft the document sent with that letter.
Karapetyan was also reportedly involved in efforts to foil international investigations for more than a decade. He was reportedly 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.
According to the Daily Beast, the wreckage of a helicopter allegedly carrying Karapetyan was discovered near the village of Vonyshevo. The metal was twisted and mangled beyond repair. Why the experienced pilot crashed isn't known.
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.
The Russian Deputy Attorney General's ties to Veselnitskaya emerged earlier this year when a Swiss court exposed him for trying to recruit a high-level law-enforcement source as an agent for the Kremlin.
The top investigator was fired for "unauthorized clandestine behavior," and allegations of bribery and breaching secrecy laws. The Swiss authorities discovered that the officer, identified only as Victor K., had met Karapetyan in Geneva and Zurich. Some time before Christmas 2016, Karapetyan called the man and invited him to Moscow, where the Russian government put him up in a luxury hotel and asked to attend a meeting with Veselnitskaya.
It's believed that this the meeting 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.
In one of the most high-profile incidents involving Karapetyan, the one-time prosecutor was reportedly involved in an incident where two British detectives were poisoned while investigating the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent and Russian defector.
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.
But arranging the meeting between the Swiss law-enforcement official and Veselnitskaya wasn't Karapetyan's only involvement with the mysterious Russian lawyer.
Karapetyan and Veselnitskaya also worked together on another job linked to Magnitsky, where US authorities brought a civil case against a company called Prevezon for purportedly helping to launder the proceeds from the fraud that Magnitsky had uncovered.
But Prevezon refused to cooperate in the probe, which the Daily Beast said forced the US law enforcement authorities 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.
In summary, while details of the crash are sketchy - and the possibility that it may have been due to some mechanical failure has not yet been ruled out - it was par for the course to see that the Western media has already blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin.