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criminal charges Donald Trump’s longtime-financial chief accused of ‘15-year tax fraud’

Weisselberg denies criminal charges in NY court

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A file image shows Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg looking on as Donald Trump speaks. Photo: Reuters

A file image shows Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg looking on as Donald Trump speaks. Photo: Reuters

A file image shows Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg looking on as Donald Trump speaks. Photo: Reuters

Donald Trump’s longtime financial chief and an affiliate of the former US president’s company pleaded not guilty yesterday to criminal charges in a sweeping indictment from a probe by Manhattan’s district attorney into Mr Trump and his business practices.

Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organisation, was charged in the 15-count indictment with avoiding taxes on $1.7m of income, while an affiliate of the company was charged with scheming to defraud.

The charges were announced one day after a grand jury indicted the organisation and its executive.

“This was a 15-year long tax fraud scheme involving off-the-books payments,” prosecutor Carey Dunne said at the arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court.

“It was orchestrated by the most senior executives who were financially benefiting themselves and the company, by getting secret pay raises at the expense of state and federal taxpayers,” he said.

The indictment could undermine the relationships of Mr Trump’s company with banks and business partners.

It could also complicate Mr Trump’s political future, as he resumes holding rallies and mulls a 2024 White House run.

Cyrus Vance, the district attorney, began his still-ongoing investigation nearly three years ago, and has been working in recent months with the office of New York attorney general Letitia James.

Mr Vance and Ms James are Democrats, and both attended yesterday’s arraignment.

Mr Weisselberg (73) wore handcuffs as he was led to the courtroom.

He surrendered to authorities early yesterday after prosecutors secured grand jury indictments against him and the company.
Lawyers for the prosecutor’s office, the Trump Organisation and Mr Weisselberg had earlier declined to comment about the indictments.

However, Mr Trump, in an interview from Texas – where he appeared at a presidential-style border event with Fox News host Sean Hannity – lumped the New York investigations with other past probes that he has insisted have been politically motivated. “All nonsense,” he said. “New York radical-left prosecutors come after me – you gotta fight.”

Although the indictments could pose trouble for Mr Trump, exposing his company to potential fines and intensifying pressure on Mr Weisselberg, neither the former president nor anyone else in his firm was expected to face charges this week.

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Prosecutors hope Mr Weisselberg will offer testimony against Mr Trump in exchange for lessening his own legal risk, according to a person familiar with the case.

Mr Weisselberg, who has worked for Mr Trump since the 1980s, is considered the most important figure in the Trump Organisation apart from Trump family members.

The Washington Post has previously reported Mr Weisselberg was a key figure in the investigations by Mr Vance and Ms James.

Both have scrutinised whether Mr Trump misled lenders or tax authorities, or evaded taxes on forgiven debts or fringe benefits for employees, according to court papers and people familiar with the cases.

In recent months, both sets of investigators have spoken to Jennifer Weisselberg, the chief financial officer’s former daughter-in-law, who said Mr Weisselberg’s son Barry had been given a free apartment and a hefty salary while he worked at the Trump Organisation’s Central Park ice rink.

Prosecutors were looking into whether taxes were paid on the benefits, sources said.

The now-merged investigations of Mr Trump’s company appear to be the longest-lasting and most extensive ever undertaken of the Trump Organisation.

Mr Vance’s office opened an investigation in 2018, responding to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s charges that Mr Trump had directed improper pay-offs during the 2016 presidential campaign to women who said they’d had affairs with Mr Trump.

But Mr Vance’s probe then broadened, encompassing years of business transactions.

Mr Vance examined tax breaks Mr Trump got on an estate in suburban New York, loans Mr Trump took out on his Chicago tower, and statements Mr Trump made to New York tax authorities about the value of his Manhattan towers, according to previous court filings.

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