The case against U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been sent to a jury for deliberations after prosecutors presented closing arguments portraying an alleged web of lies Manafort laid to escape paying U.S. taxes on the income he earned for political-consulting work in Ukraine.
The jurors on August 16 will begin deliberating their verdict on 18 counts of tax- and bank-fraud prosecutors have leveled against Manafort in a U.S. district court outside Washington. If found guilty on all the charges, he could face eight to 10 years in prison.
It is the first case to go to trial that emerged from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutor Greg Andres told the jurors that the government’s case boils down to "Mr. Manafort and his lies."
"When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies," Andres said.
Attorneys for Manafort argued that he was not guilty because he left the details of his finances to other people, including his former deputy, Rick Gates, who appeared as the government’s star witness.
None of the charges against Manafort involve anything he did during his five-month stint as Trump’s campaign chairman in mid-2016, but many of them involve political work he did for the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, before he was ousted by street protests in 2014.
About $16 million in income that prosecutors alleged Manafort hid from U.S. tax authorities came from his work in Ukraine between 2010 and 2014.
Manafort faces a second trial in September where he is accused of failing to disclose lobbying he did in Washington for the Ukrainian politicians, among other alleged crimes.
Defense attorney Richard Westling told jurors that the fact that Manafort employed a team of accountants, bookkeepers, and tax preparers shows he wasn’t trying to hide anything from U.S. tax authorities.
Some of the people who handled Manafort’s finances, including his bookkeeper, testified that he concealed offshore bank accounts and lied to them about it.
Westling said the evidence against Manafort had been cherry-picked by Mueller’s team and didn’t show jurors the full picture.
"None of the banks involved reported Manafort’s activities as suspicious," he said.
Westling also questioned whether prosecutors had shown criminal intent by the former Trump campaign chairman, and pointed to documents and e-mails that the defense lawyer said might well show numerical errors or sloppy bookkeeping, but no overt fraud.
During the prosecution’s arguments, jurors took notes while Manafort gazed at a computer screen where documents were shown. The screen showed e-mails written by Manafort that contained some of the most damning evidence that he was aware of the fraud and not simply a victim of underlings who managed his financial affairs.
Prosecutors highlighted one e-mail in which they said Manafort sent an inflated statement of his income to bank officers reviewing a loan application. They highlighted another in which Manafort acknowledged his control of one of 31 offshore companies that prosecutors say he used to hide more than $60 million he earned advising politicians in Ukraine.
Prosecutors say Manafort falsely declared a large portion of that income from Ukrainian clients to be "loans" in a ruse to keep from paying taxes on it.
"Ladies and gentlemen, a loan is not income, and income is not a loan. You do not need to be a tax expert to understand this," Andres said.
Prosecutors charged that Manafort’s lies did not end after his income from Ukraine dried up largely as a result of Yanukovych’s ouster. They said at that point, he started defrauding banks by lying about his income on loan applications.
Manafort’s lawyers blamed their client’s financial maneuvers on Gates, who they portrayed in cross-examination as a liar, thief, and philanderer.
Gates, who pleaded guilty to similar charges earlier this year and testified in hopes in getting a reduced sentence from prosecutors, told jurors he helped Manafort conceal millions of dollars in foreign income and submitted fake mortgage and tax documents.
Andres said the government isn’t asking jurors to decide the case based only on Gates’ testimony. He said the testimony of several other witnesses and the hundreds of documents presented as evidence are enough to convict Manafort on tax-evasion and bank-fraud charges.
Andres told jurors that Manafort declared only some of his foreign income on his federal income-tax returns and repeatedly failed to disclose millions of dollars that he stowed in foreign accounts and used to pay for $6 million in U.S. real estate and other luxury items.
In 2012, Manafort’s most successful year during his stint as a Ukrainian political consultant, he reported $5.3 million in income. But he told the government nothing about another $9.2 million he earned that prosecutors said was put into "a huge dumpster of hidden money in foreign bank accounts" and used to pay for his expenses.
Defense lawyer Kevin Downing argued that the government was so desperate to make a case against Manafort that it gave a sweetheart plea deal to Gates, and Gates would say whatever was necessary to ensure prosecutors do not send him to jail.
Leaving the courthouse, Downing said he felt "very good" about Manafort’s chances of being acquitted.
"Mr. Manafort was very happy with how things went today," Downing said.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
Source: Radio Free Europe