NEW YORK: A combative Donald Trump appeared in a New York court on Monday to face civil fraud charges, denouncing the case as a “sham” intended to torpedo his campaign to retake the White House. The fraud trial, one of several legal battles against the 77-year-old Trump, could potentially see the former president barred from doing business in New York state. “This has to do with election interference, plain and simple,” Trump said as he arrived for the opening day of what could be a three-month trial. “What we have here is an attempt to hurt me in an election.”
New York Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his sons Eric and Don Jr committed fraud by inflating the value of the real estate and financial assets of the Trump Organization for years. New York Attorney General Letitia James is now seeking $250 million in penalties and the removal of Trump and his sons from management of the family empire. “Justice will prevail,” James told reporters before delivering opening arguments. “No matter how powerful you are, no matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law,” she said.
Trump, arriving in court, denounced the case as a “scam” and a “witch hunt”. “It’s a sham,” he said. “My financial statements are phenomenal.” Trump is scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Washington on March 4, 2024 on charges of trying to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden. Trump will then be back in New York state court, this time on charges of paying hush money to a porn star, and later in a Florida federal court, where he is accused of mishandling classified documents after leaving office.
Finally, he will also have to answer to state charges in Georgia, where prosecutors say Trump illegally tried to get the southern state’s 2020 election results changed in his favor. In the New York case, Engoron ruled that Trump, his two eldest sons and other Trump Organization executives lied to tax collectors, lenders and insurers for years in a scheme that exaggerated the value of their properties by $812 million to $2.2 billion between 2014 and 2021. The judge revoked the business licenses that allowed the Trump Organization to operate some of its New York properties.
Actually enforcing such penalties would be “a major blow to Donald Trump’s ability to do business in the state of New York going forward,” Will Thomas, a professor of business law at the University of Michigan, told AFP. Trump — who made his reputation and fortune as a real estate mogul in the 1980s — could eventually lose control over many of his company’s flagship properties, such as his 5th Avenue Trump Tower in Manhattan. According to James, a Democrat, Trump’s own apartment in that building is among the spaces that were fraudulently overvalued — it was listed as three times bigger than its true size.
Another Manhattan building, at 40 Wall Street, was overvalued between $200-$300 million in financial disclosures, James alleges. Trump’s luxury Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — the site of the classified documents drama — and several other Trump Organization golf clubs also appear in James’ complaint. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the New York civil allegations, calling James, who is black, “racist”, and labeling Engoron “deranged”.
There are likely to be dozens of witnesses called to testify at the trial, including Trump himself and three of his children, Eric, Don Jr and his oldest daughter Ivanka. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen — now an outspoken critic of the former president — and officials from Trump-linked financial institutions are also expected to appear. – AFP