Thu, Aug 02, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Paul Manafort accused of amassing ‘secret income’

TRIAL OPENS:Donald Trump’s onetime campaign manager faces charges of tax fraud and bank fraud as well as failing to report foreign bank accounts

Reuters, ALEXANDRIA, Virginia

Two of former Trump campaign manger Paul Manafort’s attorneys, Thomas Zehnle, left, and Jay Nanavati, leave the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia on Tuesday.

Photo: Bloomberg

The political consulting work that US President Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort did to earn US$60 million in Ukraine was expected to take the spotlight yesterday on the second day of his criminal trial.

The first witness scheduled to be questioned by prosecutors was Daniel Rabin, a political consultant who produced TV ads for Manafort in Ukraine. Rabin was likely be asked to elaborate on the nature of Manafort’s work for pro-Russian politicians there.

Prosecutors said their second witness would be an FBI agent, whose name was not disclosed.

Manafort is charged with tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report foreign bank accounts. His trial is the first under special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

In their opening statement on Tuesday, prosecutors said Manafort earned about US$60 million in Ukraine and failed to report a large portion of it to US authorities.

They portrayed him as a tax cheat who hid the money in offshore accounts and lied to borrow millions more against real estate in a bid to maintain an extravagant lifestyle once the work dried up.

Manafort was described by his defense lawyer as a hugely successful international political consultant who left the details of his finances to others.

He relied on a team of financial experts to keep track of the millions of dollars he earned from his Ukrainian political work and to ensure that the money was being properly reported, attorney Thomas Zehnle said.

He denied claims that Manafort had tried to conceal his earnings by storing money in bank accounts in Cyprus, saying that arrangement was not of Manafort’s doing, but was instead the preferred method of payment of the supporters of the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party who were paying his consulting fees.

His attorneys said he did not willfully mislead or deceive the Internal Revenue Service and that he was betrayed by his former business associate Rick Gates.

In his opening on Tuesday, Zehnle made it clear the defense plans to make attacking Gates a key plank of their defense.

They said that Gates, who has pleaded guilty to making false statements, is being trusted to tell the truth when he testifies as a star witness for the prosecution.

Zehnle said Gates would “tell untruths” about Manafort.

He also accused Gates of not being honest with the accountants that prepared Manafort’s tax returns and of embezzling funds from their business.

It is unclear when Gates will take the stand in the trial in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Prosecutors filed a witness list of 35 people and, after calling political consultant Tad Devine as their first witness on Tuesday, revealed only the next two up yesterday.

Prosecutors questioned Devine for about an hour, asking him to explain the nature of Manafort’s work in the Ukraine. Among other things, Devine disclosed that Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukranian oligarch, was a key financial backer of Manafort’s work.

While prosecutors have said they would not present evidence in this trial about possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, they might dig deeper into Manafort’s connections with Russian and Ukranian oligarchs, legal experts have said.

Devine said in his testimony on Tuesday that Manafort used Western-style polling and advertising to help lift pro-Russian political figure Viktor Yanukovych to victory in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election.

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