Prosecutors Focus On Manafort ‘Lies’ As Trial Draws To A Close
Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2018 – 10:55 AM
Prosecutors wrapped up their tax evasion and bank fraud case against Paul Manafort on Wednesday, accusing Donald Trump’s former campaign chief of weaving a web of lies to hide tens of millions of dollars earned working for Russian-backed politicians in Ukraine.
“This case is littered with lies,” assistant US attorney Greg Andres told the six-man, six-woman jury in his closing arguments on Day 12 of the explosive trial.
“Mr. Manafort lied and lied again,” Andres said in a packed federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it,” he said. “And he lied to get more money when he didn’t.”
Manafort, a 69-year-old Republican political consultant and lobbyist, is charged with 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud in a case stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Manafort is not charged with any crimes related to his brief time as Trump’s campaign chairman but the trial is seen as an important test for the Mueller investigation, which President Trump has repeatedly denounced as a political “witch hunt.”
The charges against Manafort relate to money he made from political consulting between 2005 and 2014 in Ukraine.
Andres, the prosecutor, said Manafort filed false tax returns between 2010 and 2016 to hide tens of millions of dollars in earnings from US tax authorities.
The money from Ukranian politicians was deposited in 31 foreign bank accounts, most of which were in Cyprus, and Manafort repeatedly failed to report the existence of the accounts to his bookkeeper, his accountants and the Internal Revenue Service, he said.
“He owned these accounts, he controlled them, he moved the money at will,” Andres said as Manafort, dressed in a blue suit, jotted down the occasional note at the defense table.
“You didn’t need to be a tax expert” to know that money should have been reported, Andres said.
– ‘Not a crime to be wealthy’ –
Manafort also filed false statements to obtain millions of dollars in loans from banks when he was facing financial difficulties, he said.
The prosecution’s star witness against Manafort was his long-time deputy, Rick Gates, who outlined for the jury how he helped his boss shield his earnings from the US tax authorities.
Defense attorneys, who did not call any witnesses of their own, sought to paint Gates as a liar and a thief under cross-examination, pointing out that he had entered into a plea agreement with the government in the hopes of receiving a lesser sentence for his own crimes.
During his testimony, Gates, 46, acknowledged stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and having an extramarital affair a decade ago.
“We don’t ask you to like him,” Andres said, but he appealed to the jury to compare Gates’ testimony to that of the more than 20 other witnesses the government called against Manafort.
“Does the fact that Mr. Gates had an affair more than 10 years ago make Mr. Manafort less guilty?” he asked.
Prosecutors provided evidence during the trial of Manafort’s years of lavish spending — millions of dollars on luxury houses, cars, antique rugs and clothes, including an $18,500 python jacket.
But Andres said the case was “not about his wealth.”
“It’s not a crime in this country to be wealthy,” he said. “Mr. Manafort knew the law and he violated it anyway.”
Manafort’s defense attorneys are scheduled to deliver their closing statement following a lunch break.
Prosecutors will then have 17 minutes to rebut the defense arguments and Judge T.S. Ellis will send the case to the jury.
While Gates and several others indicted by the Special Counsel’s Office pleaded guilty, Manafort refused to strike a deal and insisted on going to trial.
Manafort, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Republicans Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, was Trump’s campaign chairman from May to August 2016.
He was forced to step down amid questions about his work for Ukraine’s former pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych and legal experts say he may be holding out hopes of a pardon from Trump.
© Agence France-Presse