Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort had 'huge dumpster of hidden money,' court hears

Prosecutors began their closing arguments Wednesday in the bank and tax fraud trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (REUTERS) - Paul Manafort had "a huge dumpster of hidden money" abroad, a prosecutor said on Wednesday (Aug 15), urging a jury to convict the former Trump campaign chief on financial fraud charges based more on a paper trail of evidence than the testimony of a former protege.

Special Assistant US Attorney Greg Andres gave his closing statement in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where Manafort is on trial on tax and bank fraud charges, along with failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

The trial is the first to come out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The charges involve tax and bank fraud, not possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign for president.

A Manafort conviction would undermine efforts by Trump and some Republican lawmakers to paint Mueller's Russia inquiry as a political witch hunt, while an acquittal would be a setback for the special counsel.

The star witness against Manafort has been viewed as Rick Gates, his former right-hand man, who was indicted along with Manafort but pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government.

The defence has portrayed Gates as a lying thief who had his hand in the "cookie jar" and was only trying to reduce his own sentence.

Andres argued that while Manafort did not "choose a Boy Scout" as his associate, Gates' testimony was corroborated by other evidence, including nearly 400 exhibits.

 

"The star witness in this case is the documents," he told the jury.

"That wasn't a cookie jar," he added, referring to the tens of millions of dollars Manafort had overseas. "It was a huge dumpster of hidden money in foreign bank accounts."

DOCTORED STATEMENTS

Prosecutors say Manafort, 69, tried to mislead bankers with doctored financial statements in 2015 and 2016 to get loans and wilfully failed to pay taxes on more than US$15 million (S$20 million) that he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine.

Defence lawyers decided not to call any witnesses in the trial and Manafort, a veteran Republican political operative, will not testify in his own defence.

In its closing argument, the defence took aim at Gates, who admitted in court to an extramarital affair. He also said he helped Manafort doctor financial statements, hide foreign income and evade hundreds of thousands of dollars in US income taxes.

Manafort's attorneys have portrayed Gates as living a secret life of infidelity and embezzlement. Defence lawyer Kevin Downing told the jury that Gates had shown himself to be a liar.

"He came in here and tried to get one over on you," Downing said.

Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before he took an unpaid position with Trump's campaign. He was on the campaign team for five months and led it in mid-2016 when Trump was selected as the Republican nominee for the presidential election.

Prosecutors say Manafort hid money in offshore bank accounts and then used it to pay for over US$6 million in New York and Virginia real estate, items such as antique rugs and fancy clothes, including a US$15,000 jacket made of ostrich skin.

Manafort has been charged with tax and bank fraud as well as failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. If found guilty on all charges, he could face eight to 10 years in prison, according to sentencing expert Justin Paperny.

The closely watched case was expected to go to the 12-person jury later on Wednesday.

Defence lawyer Richard Westling said his client was a respected consultant who did not operate like a person committing fraud.

He shared information with his bookkeeper, accountants, and Gates, suggesting he was not trying to conceal information from anyone, Westling said.

"That's not consistent with someone who is attempting to commit fraud."

He noted that several witnesses attested to Manafort's talents as a political consultant and that he had been adviser to presidential campaigns of Republicans Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bob Dole and Trump.