Trump lawyer Cohen's business partner pleads guilty in deal, will aid Mueller inquiry


Mr Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, leaves federal court in New York, on April 26, 2018.
Mr Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, leaves federal court in New York, on April 26, 2018.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A significant business partner of Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, has agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Under the deal reached with the New York attorney general's office, the partner, Evgeny A. Freidman, a Russian immigrant who is known as the Taxi King, specifically agreed to assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The broadened scope of Freidman's cooperation may prove worrisome not only to Cohen, who is the target of an ongoing federal investigation, but also Trump.

The president's lawyers are already resigned to the strong possibility that the continuing inquiry into Cohen's businesses could lead him to cooperate with federal prosecutors. That likelihood may now be greater, with Freidman potentially sharing what he knows.

Freidman has been Cohen's partner in the taxi business for years, managing cabs for him even after New York City regulators barred Freidman last year from continuing to manage medallions.

Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan, declined to comment on Tuesday.

Freidman had been accused of failing to pay more than US$5 million (S$6.7 million) in taxes and faced four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny - all B felonies. Each carries a maximum prison sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Instead, he appeared in court in Albany, New York, on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a single count of evading only US$50,000 worth of taxes; he will avoid jail time and receive five years of probation if he fulfills the terms of his agreement.

Freidman's agreement to cooperate in his tax fraud case could have larger implications.

Cohen is facing an investigation by the US attorney's office in Manhattan. Anything that bolsters that inquiry could increase pressure on Cohen to cooperate with Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating the 2016 election that led to Trump's victory.